This Manager Got Fired After Checking-In for a Flight at JFK Airport

What do you do when you observe someone blatantly disrespect another person in some way? Do you intervene or idly stand by? Here’s one manager who took matters into his own hands, and the difficult stand to do what’s right.

If you’re an avid traveler like me, you’ve probably lost count of how many flights you’ve taken in your life, only to be reflected in your airline member status or the stamps (old-school) in your passport.

As I was reviewing my travel schedule for the day, the Uber driver arrived at my house, and we were on our way to JFK Airport for my next trip. Now, I’ve mastered the art of traveling the world without ever checking a bag; only my two carry-ons. (Travel coaching moment for you?) But sometimes, you just can’t avoid it, especially if you’re traveling with a guitar, as well.

So, there I was, waiting online to check my bag, when I noticed a middle-aged gentleman and the ticketing agent engaging in what quickly became a heated conversation.

As I was observing this interaction, I recognized Kris, a client I had previously worked with, standing in front of the line.

Meanwhile, the conversation was becoming even more uncomfortably intense. Everyone could hear what this person’s issue was. He was late, he only had the one bag to check, he expected an unearned seat upgrade, he was the Director at O_____, had an important meeting, and the agent was just taking, “too long!”

It seemed this person felt entitled enough to take the problem that he created himself, and unleash his anger, frustration and blame on this unsuspecting, innocent agent, who was simply trying to help him.

After furiously grabbing his boarding pass from the agent’s hand, he huffed away in a hurry, on his way to his gate.

Now, I witnessed this entire interaction. Everyone who was there, waiting to check their luggage was unfortunately witness to this unacceptable, downright cruel behavior, as well.

And, of course, so did Kris, the Senior VP.

As soon as I went through security, I texted him to see if he had time to reconnect and catch up before his next flight.

After a cordial greeting, the first thing he asked me was, “Did you happen to notice the person who was in front of me, having that argument with the agent?

“I think everyone did!” I responded.

“Well,” said Kris pointedly, “He’s actually one of my Sales Directors. I heard the entire conversation and observed his behavior as well.”

“So what was your reaction to what you observed?” I asked curiously.

“Let’s just say, the next meeting he’s having isn’t on his calendar yet.”

I sensed where he was going with his last comment. But before I had a chance to dive deeper, he had to hurry off to catch his flight.


But how can I end the story here? Of course, I had to follow up with Kris, to get clarity on his last comment.

After getting him on the phone the following day, I asked, “Hey Kris, you mentioned that the next meeting with this Director would be a meeting he didn’t know he was having. Can you help me understand what you meant by that?”

“Absolutely, Keith. When this Director got back to the office, his next meeting was with the HR Director and me. You may be surprised to hear this, but that was his last day working for the company. He was terminated on the spot.” (Legally and in compliance, of course.)

The Biggest Picture: Your Personal Brand IS Your Company’s Brand

Good leaders realize the costly impact that other people’s negative and toxic behavior has on them, their team, their customers and their company.

Great leaders realize this too, in addition to the detrimental impact that a person like this can have on their company’s brand and success that extends beyond the parameters of the company and customers, but throughout their local and global community.

A Time for Selflessness – Your Personal Brand Isn’t Just About YOU

We know leadership isn’t about making the popular decision but the right one. That’s why the only question every manager needs to reflect upon in a situation like this, is not, “What’s best for the employee?” or, “What’s best for me?”

And in a situation like this, the only question managers can objectively answer when deciding whether someone is a culture fit is, What is truly best for the company?”

This is what Kris had to do. The irony is, while this person was a solid performer, it could never make up for the collateral damage they created in their wake.

Think about the damage this one Director was capable of. If the people who observed this interaction knew what company he worked for, (and he was pretty clear about it) think about how this one experience, just ONE observation, can influence everyone’s opinion and relationship with your company,

The Financial Impact – The Hard Cost 

You may know what if feels like to work in a toxic workplace but are you mindful of the financial impact to your company? Take a look at some of these statistics:

  1. One negative review will cost a company a total of 30 potential customers. This means that if a customer spends, on average, $200 with your business on a single transaction, then you are losing $6,000 a year for every negative review of the company.
  2. A company with 10,000 employees could be spending as much as $7.6 million in additional wages to make up for a poor reputation. This is based on the percentage of unwanted turnover, as well as the need to increase compensation in order to attract and entice better talent to work for them.
  3. 93% of consumers read online reviews, and four out of five customers won’t buy from companies with negative reviews.

These are scary facts, especially for a hard working business owner who has spent years building a trusted company only to watch its reputation spiral out of control.

Where the Runway Ends or Begins?

One person has the power to burn the house down with one match and poison the entire atmosphere, performance, and culture of your team, your company and the reputation you have with your external clients, both current and prospective. This also includes all potential new hires and the quality of candidates you’re looking to recruit.

Fortunately, there is one person who has the power to extinguish this inferno, and create a unified, accountable, self-motivated team focused around achieving a collaborative goal and creating the desired brand – the manager. 

Your personal brand isn’t just a reflection of what you do, your achievements, what you’re known for, your path for career progression, or what company you work for. And your company’s reputation and brand isn’t formulated or created by the marketing department or by having a great product, service or a fancy LOGO.

It’s a result of the experiences every prospect, internal customer (employees/departments) and external customer have with you; anywhere, anytime – forever. 

If you Touch It, Then It’s Now Your Company’s Brand

In every department, with every deliverable, in every conversation you have, whether it’s via text, email, phone, face to face, Morse code, carrier pigeon, smoke signals, social media posts and responses, and so on, your company’s reputation is a culmination of every experience, interaction and conversation that both you, your employees, your prospects, your customers AND every person in your community have each day.

Take this Director who essentially fired himself. A solid example of the truth that who you are is always more important than what you do. How you show up every day, handle adversity, wins, meetings, disagreement, new initiatives, collaboration, difficult conversations and different people, and what you do when others are not around, demonstrates your authentic character.

It also represents the character of your company.

This applies not only to managers, but to each person in the organization, since each employee wears the badge of your company brand. So, be mindful that each day, all day, wherever you are; wear it proudly, and respectfully.

Do you ever stop and think about how your behavior impacts not just your reputation, but the reputation of your peers, coworkers, company and customers? 

Build Your Company’s Reputation by How You Want to Be Known

Fortunately, whether you have established an admirable personal brand or, as you self-reflect, you noticed it’s a bit tarnished, the great news is, you always have the power to rebuild and upgrade your brand. Now, expand your thinking beyond just improving your personal brand and imagine the role and positive impact you can make exponentially every day on others, one conversation at a time.

People Don’t Always Look at Things as an Isolated Incident but as a Global Truth. In their Mind, YOU = EVERYONE

If you really want to upgrade your company culture, stop thinking about your company’s reputation as exclusive, and focus on your own reputation and how it impacts others, especially how your company is known.

After all, your company brand is not your LOGO – It’s your PEOPLE.

Your company’s brand and legacy today are a result of the choices YOU made yesterday. Your company’s brand and legacy tomorrow will be a result of the choices YOU make today. Choose wisely.

For a moment, forget about you, remove yourself from this equation, think about the next conversation you’ll have, and ask yourself, “What kind of culture, atmosphere, brand and reputation do I want to create for my company, starting now?”