Servant Leadership Lesson: Ed Bastian & Jim Goodnight at Leadercast

Note: This post is the fifth in a series of Servant Leadership Lessons from the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast 2010.

At the 2010 Chick-Fil-A Leadercast, Jim Collins interviewed Ed Bastian, president of Delta Airlines and Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute. Both executives referenced servant leadership principles as key attributes in the success of their companies. As Collins framed it, this also presented an excellent dichotomy, with Delta the large, publicly held airline that went nearly bankrupt and SAS, the smaller, privately held company in the software industry. I found the session particularly interesting as well, given the very different personalities and leadership traits you find in these two individuals, as you will see from many of their comments:

Jim Goodnight SASJim Goodnight

Disclaimer: Jim Goodnight and his efforts at SAS Institute have been the source of much Servant Leadership material for many proponents. As a result, I confess there is a potential for bias in my comments.

  • One ways SAS supports its employees is by providing ‘additional income that is not taxed to employees’, such as free coffee, snacks, etc…
    • “It’s much better to keep the money and give it to your employees than send it to Washington – that just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
  • “We only have a 35 hour week… have had that since 1976”
  • They also have flexible start times, so some people start 7, 8, 9, etc.
  • “We’re a knowledge company. Everything we do comes out of the heads of people who work there. “
  • Jim Collins asked, how can you maintain a 35 hour work week when your competition in Silicon Valley are famous for 80 or 100 hour work weeks?
    • “The reason they’re working 80 or a 100 hours a week is because everything they did after 5 PM is pretty much mush. So when they come back in the morning, they spend a lot of time fixing that mush.”
    • “So, I feel it’s better to go home and be with your family than stay at the office making a lot of mistakes”
    • SAS Institute made a commitment to no layoffs.
      • “As a private company I don’t have to worry if my profits go up every year. “ He told everyone there would be no layoffs last year, but he told them they weren’t getting raises either. Still they seemed very happy with that.
      • “These are the kinds of times where it’s really important to understand your customer’s problems.”
      • Jim Collins had a great comment in his question build up here: “Some people think business can teach the social sector a lot. I hold a different view and think we can learn a lot from the social sector.”

What social sector issues do you feel passionate about / want to solve?

  • “We’ve got to find ways to keep kids in schools longer.”
  • “If business wants America to stay strong, we really need to step up and push government to do a better job in education.”
    • So many kids grow up with technology (cell phones, game systems, computers, etc.) and when they get to school they have to leave that at home…as a result they’re bored. I think that’s one reason so many drop out of school.

Any other advice / comments?

  • He didn’t like cubicles during his experience working a year on the Apollo project, so we (SAS) only have offices. As a result, there are long hallways and we needed to buy art to fill those hallways.
  • I find “the art tends to motivate people.”
  • High School Basketball coach was an important mentor to Goodnight:
    • “If we won, it was always our win” the coach recognized it as a team success.
    • “If we lost, he (the basketball coach) said ‘I didn’t have you prepared, it was my fault’.”
    • “That selflessness is something I always tried to pursue.”

Ed BastianEd Bastian Delta Airlines

  • Delta literally came within a few days of shutting the doors for good
  • “Number one thing we did to comeback was to reconnect with the people of Delta Airlines”
  • The Delta airlines founder had a quote: “’If you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of the customers’. And we’d forgotten about that.”
    • They had to reignite the spirit of Delta airlines to the employees
  • When the company sat on the brink of closure, they approached the employees.  However, they didn’t use Powerpoint presentations, but just spoke with them. They told the employees the facts and said they (leadership) had made mistakes.
  • At one point, well into their recovery, there was a takeover attempt by US Air that failed. That was a key moment in the turnaround for him and the leadership. They recognized the people said, “you’re not taking our airline away from us.”
  • One of his key pieces of advice to organizations facing tremendous adversity is: “There are more things inside our control than outside…develop a mindset of agility and decide if you’re going to play offense or defense.”
  • Other Advice for Leaders in the audience included:
    • “It’s our responsibility, as a corporate citizen of the community, to give back to the community.”
    • “Don’t focus on your career track so much as your own job…and you’ll progress much faster.”
    • As one of his mentors put it, “If you’re going to succeed in life, surround yourself with successful people.”
    • Hire someone smarter than you
    • Hire people that look different than you
    • “Be a perpetual optimist”

Jim Collins closed the panel discussion with a question to the audience:

  • Think about who has mentored or coached you.
  • Then consider, how do we pay that mentor back?

Mentor the next generation, of course.

More From Jim Goodnight


More From Ed Bastian



Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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