Management Lessons From Former Continental Airlines CEO

The two main subjects I cover as a writer are travel and employee management and motivation, so I couldn’t help but notice today’s Corner Office column by Adam Bryant in The New York Times business section on Gordon M. Bethune, former CEO of Continental Airlines, which combines the two topics.

continentalLogoBethune did a fantastic job turning around the once-troubled airline during his decade at the company’s helm (1994 to 2004), and in the article he shares lessons he’s learned over the years on how to be an effective leader, which are essentially:

  • treat all employees with respect
  • recognize those who work for you when you get recognition; your team is who helps you achieve success
  • don’t micromanage; hire people with a can-do attitude and then let them do their jobs
  • communicate regularly and never lie to your employees
  • take time to show employees you’re interested in them
  • thank them personally

These lessons aren’t groundbreaking—studies have shown for years that respect, a simple thank you or a recognition award can go a long way in generating employee loyalty and improved motivation and performance—but too many managers only pay lip service to these behaviors or act on just a few of them. (Trust me, one of the biggest morale busters is to be lied to by your manager, regardless of how many times they may recognize or thank you for your efforts.)

So it was nice to read about someone who learned these key management lessons while working his way up the ladder, then didn’t forget them once he got to the top. I’ve flown Continental both before and after Bethune’s time at the company, and noticed a marked improvement in customer service after he took over. Now, if only we had more of these success stories to share.

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