Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It used to be that CEOs would think about profits, their bonuses and where they'd like to spend their vacations.

These days, things have become more complex.

Companies are being asked not only to make money, but to make statements around the essences of social decency.

This, in many eyes, means standing up to those who might have nefarious aims.

Like, some might say, the National Rifle Association.

This lobbying group of alleged good guys with guns galore can emit an unseemly odor over social discourse.

Which led Delta Air Lines to end discounts for NRA members. Not that many of them actually took up those discounts. (It was 13, to be precise.)

Naturally, there came a backlash. Georgian politicians punished Delta for such insubordination to the gun-toting cause. To the vindictive tune of $40 million.

Which all rather surprised the airline's CEO Ed Bastian.

In an interview with Fortune, Bastian admitted he knew there'd be a backlash, but didn't anticipate "the strength of the backlash from the NRA movement."

He also may not have anticipated the reaction from those who think the NRA is a fraternity of malicious crackpots.

His airline's decision "created an outpouring of support and appreciation for a company to stand by its values."

Of course companies like to talk about their values. Especially when they think that there's some, well, PR value to be gained.

Bastian, though, offered a more far-reaching description of where he now sees his role as a business leader.

After all, some CEO's have chosen to speak out far more about social issues in recent times. Whether it's Apple's Tim Cook or Starbucks's former CEO Howard Schultz.

Bastian, though, thinks his job now encompasses a greater emphasis on moral judgment.

He said he's always felt moral leadership is part of his job. In which case, the caustic might sniff, why did his airline ever give the NRA a discount in the first place?

Now, though, he believes moral leadership is more important than ever, because there's a vast air pocket in a certain part of society:

I think it's more important when you see the lack of leadership in some political circles around the world.

About whom might he be talking? The Philippines? Poland? Turkey? The (Dis)United Kingdom? He continued:

We're a more polarized society. The populist movement is strong and the populist movement is centered on fear and anxiety and people not feeling like they have a voice in the process and we've got to counter that. I think it's incumbent on us to fill the vacuum of leadership that some of our politicians have vacated.

Ah, I fear he's talking about the US of A. And I fear many might agree with his sentiment.

Talking about issues not directly related to his business is, he said, "a bit uncomfortable."

So why, oh, why get involved in these thorny issues that always leave a prickly sensation?

Here is where he addressed the strong new element at the core of his job:

I really know the heartbeat of our company, I believe, and when you see something that is so polar opposite to what you believe you're required to speak. And our employees expect us to speak.

Sometimes, it seems, there aren't good people on both sides.

Whether they have guns or not.

Published on: Aug 24, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.