Crisis & Leadership: 5 Lessons from AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes

“Adversity introduces a man to himself” – Albert Einstein

As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of AirAsia QZ8051, I couldn’t help but notice the impressive leadership of CEO Tony Fernandes throughout the crisis. As an active social media user, he has utilised Twitter to send a consistent stream of inspiring, yet sensitive tweets to both his staff and customers. I fly monthly between Bali and Singapore, on a similar flight path, so this incident was close to home. As a leadership trainer, I’ve been impressed with the manner in which he has conducted himself, and the way he puts the concerns of his staff and passengers before his own. Let’s look at 5 key lessons we can learn from his recent posts.

1.Walk among the troops

 As soon as he heard about the incident, Tony was quick to hop on a plane, and fly through the same flight path in order to be there with the families of his passengers. This is leadership 101. In the event of a crisis, you don’t lock yourself away in your office hoping no-one will find you; you get out there and get your hands dirty, rally your team, and show your employees that you are there for them through thick and thin. AirAsia’s CEO has spent a lot of time meeting with the families of the passengers and staff, and continues to be a support for them.

2. Remain accountable

 Leaders should always remain accountable for their team’s actions. Bad leaders are often quick to blame others – in this instance, the weather, pilots, mechanical faults etc. – however true leaders accept responsibility, and then start the investigation within their teams. Playing the blame game is the quickest way to destroy trust and lower engagement levels. Recently, he was quoted in an interview saying, “The passengers were on my aircraft and I have to take responsibility for that.”

3. Focus on your team

Inspirational leaders know that for them to be successful, they need to have the right people in place. Tony has been quick to praise the performance and attitude of his staff throughout the crisis, and that will have a positive knock-on effect on the whole company. Employees want to know that their leader has their backs when trouble hits. Public recognition of your employees goes a long way to increasing morale, and this is especially important during a crisis when all staff are vulnerable to a loss of drive, confidence, and are more likely to make crucial mistakes.

4. Clients are everything

 A business in the service industry is nothing without their clients, and the top-performing companies go out of their way to keep their customers’ expectations exceeded. This is a crucial time for AirAsia, as they will seek to retain their client base in a time when many passengers might be nervous about flying with them in the near future. Tony doesn’t seek to explain what’s happened, his primary concerns have been for his customers. This helps to maintain, and increase the trust that has been built up over the past 20 years.

5. Keep to the facts

“We cannot make any assumptions about what went wrong. All I can say is that the weather in south-east Asia is bad at the moment.” – Tony Fernandes, CEO, Air Asia

“There were some very unique weather conditions and let’s wait for the investigation to be concluded.” – Tony Fernandes, CEO, Air Asia

In past air accidents, some leaders have been quick to make rash statements without the evidence to back them up. This damages credibility. Tony Fernandes, and his team, have been careful to let the investigation run its course, and to not jump to any conclusions.

Good leaders know not to overcommit, and the importance of making well-informed decisions. You will quickly lose the respect of your team if you have to constantly change your decision or direction, and have to go back on your word.

Being a leader is easier when times are good, however it’s the manner in which a leader navigates their way through a crisis that displays their true strength and character.

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