Hile Rutledge
Trainer, author

Hile Rutledge

CEO and owner of OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates), a training and consulting firm specializing in leadership and team development.

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JetBlue's Rorschach test

Q: The flight attendant who melted down after a passenger's overhead luggage beaned him, has become something of a folk hero. Steven Slater cursed out the traveler over a loudspeaker and then slid out of the plane's exit chute, exclaiming "I quit!" Can blowing up -- even in a professional capacity -- be a good thing? Have you ever rebelled, or wanted to?

JetBlue's Steven Slater melts down, quits his job with some drama and flair and becomes our culture's latest Rorschach test.

Just a few days after his dramatic departure, many are looking to Slater as a folk hero for standing up to workplace abuse, while others are using this story to harp on the continuing decline of air-travel civility.

Seeing this as a little morality play or even an over-the-top piece of sketch comedy is tempting, but I cannot help but see -- less in the act itself as in our collective "hooray" upon seeing and talking about it -- this event as a marker of our collective professional insecurity and the perceived diminishment of our personal power.

In 1999, I was coaching a client who desperately wanted to improve his relationship with a challenging employee. This client was making a concerted effort to meet this employee two-thirds the way toward resolution on nearly every issue over which they clashed because the client was intimidated by the thought of having to replace this employee. At the time, unemployment was under 5 percent --full employment, and the job market favored the employees -- jobs were plentiful, and employers had to scramble with benefits, training, and salaries to find and keep employees.

We now are hovering around 10 percent unemployment, and many areas of the country have a much higher jobless rate than that. It is an employer's market. Salaries and benefit are holding steady or are even in decline. Employment rolls are shrinking, and those employees who remain are expected to do more work for the benefit of having and keeping their jobs.

The boom-and-bust nature of our economic system makes this pendulous shift in power understandable and even predictable. When employees en masse are feeling disempowered and insecure, the fantasy of lashing out against the petty tyrannies of our daily grinds, of standing up against powers to which we usually cave or cower fills us with glee. I see in the Rorschach test that is Steven Slater a reminder that we are collectively feeling rather powerless and are in a state of great professional insecurity.

By Hile Rutledge  |  August 16, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and controversy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Steve is an inspiration to us all, not that we need much more. Note the number of persons quitting jobs at which they are overworked, unappreciated, and underpaid by corporations that have realized windfall profits.

You go, Steve! I'm looking for my parachute.

Posted by: farnaz_mansouri2 | August 16, 2010 3:38 AM
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