Delta jet airborne

‘Ethics are the commitment you make to your organization’

Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, is named the Ethical Leader of the Year by the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund
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“I believe that Ed Bastian is a values-based decision-maker, somebody who is accountable for the decisions that he makes, somebody who is empathetic to the challenges that employees face,” says Brian Peckrill, interim executive director and Fellows program director at the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund.

Peckrill’s remarks come as Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines is awarded the McGowan Fund’s Ethical Leader of the Year Award at the SHRM Annual Conference and Expo 2023 in Las Vegas.

Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines

Peckrill notes an ethical leader sets goals and objectives for the company while also developing tactics to achieve those goals and objectives. “Commitment is what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do as a leader. That is where ethics come in. Ethics are the commitment you make to your organization.”

Brian Peckrill, interim executive director and Fellows program director, William G. McGowan Charitable Fund

He adds, “We believe right now is the perfect moment to celebrate leadership at the highest level. It’s part of the national dialogue. I really think that our country is crying out to celebrate and honor individuals who are ethical leaders.”

The candidates for the Ethical Leader of the Year Award are judged on six principles of ethical leadership – character, integrity, accountability, empathy, self-awareness, and courage. The McGowan Fund also looks at their contributions to society through goods and services, their management and leadership of people, and their establishment of processes.

“It was very clear when we were reviewing our various candidates that all of our candidates had their commitments, what they wanted to be as leaders. In Ed’s case, it was very clear that he wanted to uplift the individuals that work for Delta. He wanted to uplift the people of Atlanta as much as possible,” says Peckrill.

He adds that Bastion’s commitment to Delta employees has been a hallmark of his career, especially in the face of challenges such as COVID’s impact on the airline industry and during the 2008-2010 economic crisis. “There were two ways to go in the face of these challenges. One was to forget about the people. and the other was to double down on the people around you. And throughout all of his leadership, it’s very clear that Ed cares deeply about the people of Delta Air Lines. That’s really what separated him from the bunch,” says Peckrill.

In a statement, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of SHRM, says, “The key to a great leader is one who builds a strong workplace culture with personal accountability and a commitment to setting an example in words, decisions, and actions.”

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO, SHRM (Photo: SHRM)

About Bastian, Taylor notes, “[The] Ethical Leader of the Year Award recognizes a CEO at SHRM23 who is doing just that. Someone who is driving change, creating a strong and intentional workplace culture, and who truly believes and understands the value of ethical leadership and how it is defined, understood, and practiced in the workplace.”

This is the second time the award has been given, but the Fund has been running its ethical leadership development program since 2008.

Peckrill says, “We started the McGowan Fellows Program way back at the heart of the financial crisis with the understanding that we need ethical leaders.”

“The McGowan Fellows Program [is] a fellowship for second year MBA students who are in the top 5% of their business schools, top 10 prestigious schools across the country, and provides these individuals with the training and teaching that they need, so that when they enter into the working world, they can become values-based leaders,” explains Peckrill.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian receives the Ethical Leader of the Year Award from Brian Peckrill of the McGowan Fund (Photo: HEVE)

“It’s become clear in the past three or four years that there is a national dialogue around the importance of ethics in business. We’re doing something for the next generation of leaders, but the Ethical Leader of the Year Award is a moment to recognize and celebrate those leaders who are leading with values today in making a positive difference in both business and society.”

Peckrill concludes, “Seeing somebody like Ed shows our Fellows – and business students in general – what ethics looks like in business. This award provides a roadmap for their next generation to know how they can be the leaders that they want to be.”

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