On 20 August 1991, Hollis Harris, the then CEO of Continental Airlines, told his 42,000 employees that the company was struggling and he wasn’t sure of the path forward. He ended his memo by telling his employees to pray for the future of the company.
The next day, Hollis was fired.
If Hollis was a junior employee who worked in accounting, then those statements would have had minimal impact. Some employees may have taken notice – maybe some would have taken him out to lunch to ask him why he’s having a bad day – and he would have received some words of encouragement and support from his leader and life would have moved on. When you’re a leader, the things you say and do carry more weight and have more impact.
Another such leader is Fleetwood Grobler, the president and CEO of Sasol Limited, a South African energy and chemical company with over 30,000 employees.
Fleetwood did something that Hollis didn’t: he added leadership to the vulnerability
Fleetwood took over when the company was $13bn in debt and about to be repossessed by the banks. This was even prior to the pandemic, which really pushed the company downward. He, too, was asked to address his employees – but his message was different.
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