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Coro Fellows

As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

Receding airlines

Q: A cloud of volcanic ash grounds European airlines and the chief executives of KLM and British Airways join their crews on test flights to show that it is safe to fly. What do these actions say about the importance of symbolic involvement by top leaders in responding to crises?

In the mid-1970s, a company was founded to address a growing (or receding) concern for middle-aged men: hair loss. Hair Club's president, Sy Sperling, smudged owner-client distinctions with his widely recognized slogan, "I'm not only the Hair Club president, I'm also a client." The chief executives of KLM and British Airways are taking a page straight out of Sperling's playbook in order to assure current and future clientele of the company's commitment to safety--just like Sperling did for the Hair Club.

When top leaders become personally involved it says two things: one, "I believe in this product enough to put my life or money on the line," and two, "if nothing bad happens to me nothing bad will happen to you." These leaders then instill a sense of security in their customers, assuring them that they are willing to go -- quite literally -- to the same places. People are more inclined to identify with leaders who are willing to experience what they themselves experience.

Leaders who are invested and involved are leaders better equipped to generate buy-in and support which are needed to propel a cause. Of course, countering hair loss is a different challenge than the challenges facing KLM and British Airways, but it's a challenge nonetheless. Whether you're trying to sustain and grow your business or sustain and grow your hair, maybe the leadership challenge is the same. --Clayton Rosa

Roman accountability

Ms. Lubarsky, my high school history teacher once told us that when Ancient Romans constructed their arches, the chief engineer would stand beneath each arch as its keystone was put into place. Is it such a surprise then, that we find so many of those arches standing proudly all over Europe over 2,000 years later? The chief executives of KLM and British Airways are taking the same kind of responsibility for the actions of their companies.

Believe me, the only way I would risk my life by flying through a settling cloud of volcanic ash is if I was 100% sure it was safe. Other customers are undoubtedly thinking the same thing. While joining test flights is symbolic, it goes far beyond that. Actions do speak louder than words, and the leaders of those two companies are telling their customers that it is safe to fly and they would stake their lives on it. --Liz Willis

One Small Step

A little boy runs across his backyard with flight goggles over his eyes. He runs beneath a blue sky that almost seems endless. With outstretched arms, he tries to capture the streaks of wind as he tries to lift off on his joy. He suddenly hears his mom telling him to come back inside because something is happening on the news. Disappointed, the boy changes trajectory and makes a sudden landing in the living room. Dejected, he ponders when can he go outside and reach those clouds he yearns for.

The little boy stares at the television set. Hesitant at first, but slowly his eyes widen. He leans forward and is focused, captured by what is unfolding in front of his eyes. Amidst the waves that gently distort the picture on screen, the boy sees a bulky figure float gently onto a silent soil. In front of a backdrop of stars and a fragile Earth, the figure adorns a large visor. Proudly brandishing an American flag, the bulky figure hops into the history books.

Pioneer, hero, leader. Such words are second to the boy. For him, he sees a dream that was impossible a minute before, but feels real now. His heart fueled with a new resolve, and eyes filled with starry dreams, he seeks a new place to fly towards, a new heaven to pierce. He is filled with the breath of inspiration, with the evidence of possibility. For that boy, he yearns to grow up to be that bulky man that showed him something that he didn't realize before. Dreams are the frontiers that true leaders must push through in order for others around them to believe in the beauty of theirs. --Jimmy Duong

By Coro Fellows

 |  April 20, 2010; 5:55 AM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

Excellent story and excellent work by the leadership of KLM and BA.
Safety is generally a crock. Common sense should rule, and the Governments/quasi governments should stay out of trying to force their "power trip" down the throats of business.

Posted by: movette | April 20, 2010 10:33 AM
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Airline executives might be better served by involving themselves with aircraft manufacturers and civil aviation authorities in determining a fact-based level of safety during this crisis. Certainly the path laid by Johnson & Johnson during the Tylenol scare is one template for dealing with public safety issues that they should consider. Swagger over safety is nearly always ill-advised.

Posted by: shield1 | April 20, 2010 9:53 AM
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