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How Important is Personal Branding for a CEO? Ask Oscar Munoz.

United-Airlines-CEO-Key Person of Influence

The backlash that this poor, overpaid, unaware CEO dude is getting over the United Airlines “passenger removal” debacle is a bit dramatic. The whole unfolding scene is overly-dramafied for our reality-TV-loving generation. The sophomoric cell phone footage…the streams of blood…the cries of victimized horror and sounds of stammering, vilified backpeddling. And we are eating it up.

National PR companies are “crying for Oscar Munoz to step down as CEO.” Oh please.

On the contrary, this is time for Oscar Munoz to finally step up. Actually, the time for him to have stepped up was in September of 2015, when he was appointed the President and CEO of United Airlines. I’ve never heard his name until now, as United Airlines is a well-known established airline industry leader, easily recognized by its blue and red “U” logo. But in times of a massive global gaffe, like this apparent “breakdown in policy clarity,” people aren’t pointing fingers at a blue and red U. They are pointing fingers at Oscar Munoz and wanting to know why? And poor Oscar is thrown into the spotlight like a surprised deer facing a rifle; without a message, without a clear understanding of the policies that his company employs, and without any preparedness to give the media and the population what they want…acceptable, honest, heartfelt answers.

Because Oscar Munoz doesn’t embody the corporate ethos; he doesn’t dictate and bleed the corporate message from the top down. (Gratuitous use of the word “bleed” intended for the dramatically-inclined.)

In the age of Google, CEOs can no longer hide. Greedy shareholders can no longer hide. Lazy board members who celebrate the addition of an appointment to their Curricula Vitae with lackluster involvement can’t hide. Logos and brands don’t shield the people behind the scenes who are drawing in the big salaries while remaining blissfully unaware of corporate policies and company methodologies…they are now easily sought out and dragged into the forefront in times of crisis. And they had damned well better be prepared – because any company is one single incident away from the butterfly effect of global persecution; amplified by viral memes and satirical skits on late night TV.

Stocks plummet, people are fired, last names are desecrated over a policy breakdown that has been in effect and operating business-as-usual for decades. Because nobody bothered to review and update the corporate policies and procedures manual to reflect today’s times and consumer expectations. In the newly emerging Collaboration Economy, or Shared Economy, or whatever it will eventually be deemed, corporate leaders operating by the rules of decades before will be bulldozed over by innovative thought leaders who recognize the need to adapt, innovate, and lead from the top down. Innovative thought leaders don’t hide. They blaze trails, embrace failures and learn from them, and they lead adaptive industry change.

Good luck, Oscar Munoz. You are another victim of the entrepreneur revolution. “Transparency” is real, not just a trendy marketing buzzword. And your curtain just dropped to the floor…revealing a failure in leadership; resulting in damaging deployment of antiquated policies. Now what? The world is watching.


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