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Throughout the past year, leaders and companies across the globe have had to step up and adjust to unprecedented challenges that have affected both employees and customers, from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the global reckoning over historic racial inequality and injustice.  

While the pandemic’s impact on the airline industry has been staggering, Delta responded with swift, decisive action under CEO Ed Bastian's leadership to put people over profits. The airline prioritized customers' and employees’ health and safety above all else and ultimately saved jobs, preserved liquidity and cash balance, and positioned Delta for the future.  

In an MIT Sloan Management Review piece about leading purposefully, his leadership was summarized with a quote, “It’s people over profits. We strongly believe that if we take good care of our people, including our customers, they will take care of the bottom line for us. We needed to lean on people’s loyalty. They will put us in a position to recover and have the best shot at success in the future.”  

New York Times article included Bastian alongside other top corporate leaders to discuss how corporations are stepping up and voicing opinions on topics that matter.   

Bastian took a hard look at the company’s own record on diversity and outlined actionable steps to correct the course in an effort to become an anti-racist, anti-discrimination organization. Since then, Bastian has taken a more active role in the equity movement by discussing racial injustice in employee town halls with pioneers in the Black community and leading by example based on the company’s values. 

In a recent Inc. article, contributing editor Bill Murphy Jr. highlights three words that stood out during Delta’s latest earnings call - optimism, hope, and confidence. Bastian’s transparent, authentic and values-based leadership approach to the crises at hand has created a culture of optimism and resilience within the company. 

“I've come to realize two things after covering companies like Delta for so long. First, "leadership at scale equals culture," and second, any leader's most powerful tools are his or her words,” said Murphy. “All else being equal, if you want to lead your business effectively, optimism, hope and confidence should probably be right up front and accessible in your linguistic toolkit.” 

Bastian has reminded employees throughout the pandemic that “crises don't build character, they reveal character” – and these ongoing crises have revealed the strength of Delta's character, the power of strong leadership and the importance of a values-led culture. 

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