Steven Slater is Not a Hero

Another headline caught my attention today, once again referring to JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater as a hero.

A hero?

I could see labels such as intriguing, outlandish, crazy, or extreme. I admit I chuckled out loud when I heard about the incident, just imagining a uniformed flight attendant sailing down a slide with two beers in hand and running off across the tarmac.

But hero?

Here’s a dictionary definition of hero:a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”

An alternative definition is “a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal:  He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.”

I’ve had the distinct privilege of working with thousands of flight attendants on topics related to leadership, influence, conflict, and customer service. I understand that it’s an enormously demanding job and significant sacrifices have been made in terms of pay, reduced staffing, and increased hours.

I also acknowledge that the passenger in question was likely out of line at best and perhaps guilty of a dangerous crime. I’m not saying Mr. Slater’s situation was easy.

But a hero? I don’t buy it.

Eventually we all face situations as leaders where we encounter a challenging interpersonal situation. Given the right set of circumstances on the wrong day, any one of us could at least be tempted to pull a Steven Slater.

But something clicks in between the stimulus and the response. On this unfortunate day, there was no gap: Stimulus. Response. Escalation. Slide deployed.

It’s often not just what happens to us that is the issue: it’s how we react. A heroic response by Mr. Slater would have been to keep his cool and respond according to guidelines for the very real threat he was facing. Maybe such a response wouldn’t lead to his face being splashed across the internet but it would have gained him respect and put even more focus on the reportedly unruly and potentially unlawful passenger actions.

Today I want to acknowledge the heroes in the air that didn’t get a couple hundred thousand friends on Facebook or become an internet and cable news freak show because of their most recent day on the job. Perhaps even without a thanks they showed distinguished courage or ability in the face of challenging situations. And they do it day-after-day.

They are worthy of being called heroes today. Not Steven Slater.

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