Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
After all, you have to have the self-belief that you can steer an organization toward more fruitful times.
Fruitful for you, especially.
Not everyone can do that.
One of the tougher moments, though, comes when you ask employees to give up things.
And so we come to American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.
He hasn't always been deft at understanding human underbellies.
Why, for the life of him he couldn't understand why it was important to fly the airline's new, maximally uncomfortable planes, one about which even his own employees were complaining.
Perhaps, then, the airline's mechanics couldn't have expected him to offer satisfying answers to their questions.
In a recent State of the Airline meeting with employees, reported by Gary Leff of View From the Wing, Parker tried to soothe unhappy mechanics who fear even more of their work will be outsourced than has been already.
A mechanic explained to Parker that he and his fellow mechanics had sacrificed a lot to help the airline prosper.
He then asked:
What have you guys sacrificed?
It's a fine question, isn't it? Answering it isn't easy.
It's hard to imagine the powerful sacrificing anything. It's far easier to imagine them wondering what to do with their latest tax break.
Parker responded to the sacrifice question like this:
Fair enough. Let me get back through instead though to the question about outsourcing and what we're doing about it.
The mechanic wasn't having it. He asked again. To which Parker responded:
Oh, I, I...it doesn't matter, I could answer that question but it's just going to sound like I'm just telling you all sorts of stuff.
I'm blessed. I've had a really great life and I'm really happy about it and what I really want to do is make sure we're doing everything we can to take care of this team.
So while we've all made sacrifices, some are greater than others, and what we want to go do is make sure we're doing everything we can to take care of this team, ensure we have a competitive business that can be here forever and take care of our team members as we believe we should.
First he appears to admit that perhaps he hasn't had to make too many sacrifices. Or, at least, what employees might recognize as true sacrifices.
He's had a great life, after all.
But then he veers back into the concept that everyone at American has made sacrifices.
Well, we do know that Parker has flown in Economy Class occasionally. We also know that he doesn't take a salary. He prefers -- as some CEOs do -- to take millions and millions in stock. (Sacrifice Level 0.1.)
This year, for example, he's already made $19.2 million. There's likely more to come.
The employees surely know this, which made the question very awkward.
Parker could, though, have chosen to answer with empathy. He could have talked to that specific mechanic about his specific life.
Instead, he first tried to avoid the question and then he tried to elide his way around it by insisting everyone was in this together.
At heart, I suspect, he instinctively didn't know what to say.
One issue here is that even though Parker has paid many employees well -- some would say at far better than market rate -- they still don't naturally gravitate to his management style.
Indeed, that's why the question was asked.
It was asked by someone who, I suspect, believes that his company's CEO doesn't get people.
Indeed, it was less of a question and more of an innate criticism that didn't expect a satisfying response.
Parker seems to suffer from the same emotional malaise that inflicts some of his fellow former U.S. Airways executives.
I remember getting on a U.S. Airways plane for the first time and finding it spectacularly characterless and soulless.
It felt like an airline created by an actuary. (Actuary Airlines. Motto: Love Actuary.)
Sadly, that emotional deficiency seems to translate to executives who passed through that airline to even higher things.
Not only Parker and Robert Isom at American, but also United Airlines president Scott Kirby.
He's the one who tried to turn the employees' bonus scheme into a lottery-style game show in which hardly anyone got a bonus.
Kirby is also the executive who tried to justify charging families more to sit together by saying that an airline ticket is like a concert ticket.
Well, except that you can't give it to someone else or sell it on a ticket exchange. And, well, all too often there's the lack of a performance, too.
Some leaders instinctively know how to get employees on their side and what to say when things aren't going well.
Whether it's Richard Branson at Virgin Atlantic or Gary Kelly at Southwest, the employees largely know that the boss is leading a business whose goal is to make employees feel good and transmit that feeling to customers.
Parker struggles with that. Which is why American seems to suffer from constant labor unrest, something that translates to the service being offered to customers.
While at United, CEO Oscar Munoz appears to enjoy at least some popularity among employees, American doesn't seem so fortunate.
That, especially if recession should hit and employees are asked to sacrifice even more, could be a very big problem.