How Courageous a Leader Is Qantas C.E.O. Alan Joyce

Courage and Qantas are unlikely bedfellows yet they've made headlines in 2018.

Courage in the Skies: The untold story of Qantas. This recently published book by Jim Eames tells of the brave men and women of Qantas fighting the good fight on the world stage during WW2. Those were the days when Qantas staff had ‘a bit of mettle about them.’

Just last week Qantas and courage awkwardly appeared under the same headline. Taiwan asked Qantas not bow to China’s insistence that Qantas refer to Taiwan as an independent country in its scheduling. Qantas bowed.

Australia’s Taipei Economic and Cultural Office felt somewhat let down and told The Australian newspaper: “We wish to refer to the [Qantas] motto… that says ‘the spirit of Australia’. Undoubtedly, this spirit should be predicated on freedom, courage, mutual respect”.

Qantas - and I really mean Alan Joyce - had no choice. It’s easy to say that Qantas should take a teaspoon of cement and toughen up, but when it’s the world stage, it’s political, hugely commercial and you are an ant with about 30,000 employees to face off against the 1.4 billion strong Chinese elephant, well, then, it’s time to be prudent.

It started me thinking what does it take to be a courageous company? Can the leader be courageous and the rest of the organisation not? (my apologies to Qantas people with mettle. That sweeping statement is being used to make a point)

That seems to be the case. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has courage. When in 2011 he grounded the Qantas fleet in the industrial argy-bargy with unions, regardless of whether you agree with the outcome, that took balls.

His outspoken advocacy for marriage equality is no trifling matter. That was a risky play in a conservative marketplace. The cost to his health is serious. We only get the one life. It’s courageous to use yours to fight on behalf of others.

That he gets amply remunerated is a diversion from the essence of courage. Money is the lowest form of commitment. You can get paid handsomely, work long and work hard but real commitment - that takes real courage - is to put your identity on the line. 

Given that this guy has a bit he could say about courage, he doesn’t seem to be saying it to the other 29,000 or so Qantas employees. 

Their Business Practices Document that outlines that Qantas expects of its staff doesn’t include the need to have courage. Courage does not appear once in this document. Nor in its Qantas Code of Conduct and Ethics.

Is Alan Joyce failing as Qantas CEO: Chief EN-COURAGE-MENT Officer?

We frivolously throw around the word encourage in a sort of ‘come on, chin up mate, things will get better’ way. It is much bigger than that. Look at the etymology of the word.

En: pass on, facilitate, make happen

Courage: the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty

When you encourage someone you are gifting them your experience born of sweat and tears and saying here, this may be useful to get where you are trying to go. Please use it. It is a noble act.

That the personal courage Alan Joyce clearly has, is not making its way down to the heart and soul of the Qantas, is an opportunity missed.

Matt Church, founder of Thought Leaders says… “encouragement may be the most powerful leadership tool we have.”

I wonder what an en-courage-ed Qantas could do?

How Courage made Dragons out of footy players

Ritchie Gibson is credited as instrumental in the 2018 turn around for St George Illawarra Dragons. 

This ex-army veteran understood it wasn’t a strategic 5-point plan that motivated our soldiers to display gallantry or valour. It was always for a cause, purpose or belief, and the sacrifices they were willing to make to see it through.

So he gave the players his four pillars for team success, of which one was courage. He demanded they live these qualities, that they put the team before the person for 30 days. If they did, they were elevated from player to DRAGON. 

As Ritchie says, “they now play for the team on the front of the jersey and not the name on back.”

The Courage to Quit

US Pharmacy giant CVS quit selling tobacco products in 2011. “The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health.” Cynics would argue they had a logic problem that forced their hand. However, they put their money where their cigarette smoke puffing mouth was.

A Principle ain't a Principle until it costs you money

Paul Alexander, owner of Creative Outsource, shared a true story of courage that changed his life.

“Years ago the then CMO of Ansell rubber came out in the press and said that "AIDS was a condom markers bonanza". This was swiftly followed by the Head of their US Ad Agency who announced that "AIDS was not a condom-makers' bonanza at all - it was a human tragedy - and we hereby resign the (US$300m+) account'. He became my hero. The point is, a Principle ain't a Principle until it costs you money.”

Coke or Pepsi

Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo in 2006, saw that the millennial generation wanted healthier foods and drinks. In the face of a lot of pushback, she introduced PepsiCo’s strategy ‘Performance with Purpose’. Coke didn’t.  Since 2011, PepsiCo stock is up 70%, while Coca-Cola’s has increased only 15%. I suggest you listen to this Freakonomics podcast to be inspired by the courage and intellect of this impressive woman.

The Circle of Sacrifice

Ex British SAS soldier Adam ODonnell now influences Australian Leaders to tap into their innate courage. He has a concept called the circle of sacrifice.

Joining a team is, first and foremost, an act of sacrifice. We give up something of value to us in the hope - but no guarantee - that we get something of greater value back in return. We all, in some way, enter and experience this circle. I don't think Alan Joyce should sacrifice his authentic courage to the altar of manufactured Qantas branding, whatever the Spirit of Australia is?

The value of courage to an organisation is huge. Ask Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Delta’s Richard Anderson, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, Xerox’s Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns, Nestle’s Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Alibaba’s Jack Ma.

I think Alan Joyce could be doing more as Qantas C.E.O: Chief EN-COURAGE-MENT Officer.

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