Job Lessons Learned From Steven Slater: How to Avoid Emergency Slides

By Ronn Torossian

Businesses are accustomed to regular employee horror stories, yet CEOs worldwide must be terrified by the recent response to JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater’s choice of how and when to resign. Many have come to his defense, stating, “It’s hard working daily with people” and “you easily get agitated by constant traveling and servicing annoyed passengers,” but did anyone ask if he still cashed his paychecks?

Launching a foul-mouthed tirade on the plane’s PA system, deploying the emergency chute, grabbing a beer, then jumping out onto the JFK Airport runway and shouting, “That’s it, I’ve had it,” are the stuff movies are made of. One must wonder how many workplaces can survive if employees are made heroes for this sort of behavior. What sort of trouble are businesses in if we define workplace bravery by Slater’s extravagant resignation?

He didn’t win my empathy, nor did he win the consumer’s – who experience the universally awful service at airlines.

In Robin Sharma’s latest book, “The Leader Who Had No Title,” the writer goes into his infamous way of offering us a fictional parable that forces us to reflect on ourselves. The book emphasizes the notion that leadership is not something that comes with your career advances, but rather something you have in you, and something you express wherever you may be. Owning a Public Relations agency – a field that requires self-initiative, creativity, and leadership – we see these traits in superstar employees regularly.

If leadership was a skill developed in schools, or in certain jobs, there wouldn’t be much of a market for interns. At my company, and many entrepreneurial companies, there are known ingredients to leadership: love, passion and initiative.

The flight attendant was clearly not having a good day, and probably didn’t have the required skills or personality to be the best at his job.  This seems to be the issue at hand, despite the fact that JetBlue stands as a company that provides all the tools that allow one to grow, develop, and advance while fulfilling a passion. Steven Slater does not have the passion, clearly, to deal with people tired after flying for hours and to deal with horrible delays and less than ideal security screeners; thus, his leadership skills weren’t right for this job, and I’d urge him to buy a copy of the latest self-help job book.

Young people often choose jobs by the money it pays, by the narrow circumstances of being more easily able to get the position, or worse – out of no choice. These factors will not allow an employee to prevail for long.  Success comes by people who ask, “How can I improve this product or service? How can I create a solution or approach that didn’t exist before? How can I be the best flight attending, helping people through difficult travel circumstances?” These are questions of passion – this is the foundation of professional leadership and success.

I am a huge believer in following your passion and doing what you love. It is the best formula for success in life, fulfillment and the attraction of new opportunities. I would hope, for Steven Slater, that he finds his passion, which doesn’t involve emergency slides or overhead baggage.

A few lessons I think job seekers and others can learn from Slater:

1.      Find an ongoing success: you might not have noticed, but there might be just one or many activities that you are naturally very good at, and even better than others. Make note of these activities and consider making a career out of them.

2.      Accept advice: we tend to believe we know what’s best for ourselves when in fact; people from the outside environment may have a better understanding of us. External views are valuable in that they help us see ourselves from a different perspective. If you ask three different people what you do best and they all offer the same response, then it’s worth giving more consideration and attention to those fields.

3.      Be you: try to recall an early dream, aspiration or source of motivation. It is something we all used to have, but have forgotten due to life, circumstances, routine, and outside discouragement. Go back to those early thoughts and try to reignite the flame around them. That is you true passion that needs to be revived

4.      Action: leadership is the result of passion or love combined with action. A passion and a love for something are worthless if you don’t leverage one of them and recognize a course of action. Make a first move, a small step, or better yet express your passion for something with a listening ear. From my experience, things in the world begin to materialize as soon as we express them verbally.

5.      Confidence: congratulations! If you’ve reached this point you are almost carrying the title of “entrepreneur,” not to be confused with the title of “self-employed.” An entrepreneur can be someone who works and reports back like anyone else – only difference being that he or she applies initiative. You can be a leader at work no matter what you do. You can be an entrepreneur no matter who you work for. Come up with a new idea, express a new initiative, and make a remark on the way things can improve efficiently.

Whatever you end up doing, in order to be a leader and fly with passion you have to remind yourself of Henry David Thoreau’s saying: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!” Just avoid fire chutes and PA systems.

About the Guest Blogger

Ronn Torossian is president and CEO of 5WPR, one of the 20 largest independent PR firms in the U.S. Named to the “40 under 40 List” by PR Week & Advertising Age, Torossian was a semi-finalist for the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and his PR agency works with a roster of iconic brands. He may be reached via email at or followed on twitter @rtorossian5wpr