Walking the walk with social impact: Delta’s Ed Bastian puts principles to work

In the world of corporate leadership, there are those who talk about creating impact, and then there are those who truly embody it. Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Airlines, falls into the latter category. Despite the challenges of running an airline during a pandemic, under Bastian’s strong leadership, Delta emerged as the most decorated airline globally, receiving a multitude of prestigious honors including being named the top U.S. airline by the Wall Street Journal, the leading airline in Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies ranking, the most punctual global airline according to FlightGlobal, the recipient of the coveted Platinum Award for operational excellence by Cirium, and recognized as one of TIME100’s Most Influential Companies. Additionally, Delta has been celebrated as a Glassdoor Best Place to Work and has garnered numerous other notable distinctions.  

In addition to his business prowess, Bastian has also taken a bold stance on social issues, firmly believing that being an Impact Executive means staying true to your values and using your platform to make a difference. 

Some of the more well-known examples of Bastian leading with conviction include his decision to cancel a discount program for NRA members following the tragic Parkland high school shooting. This move drew criticism from those who viewed it as an attack on gun rights, but Bastian saw it as an opportunity to prioritize the safety and well-being of Delta’s customers and employees. He understood that walking the walk meant taking a stand on issues that directly affected the communities his company serves. 

Similarly, in 2021 Bastian publicly criticized Georgia’s proposed new voting rules, which many believed would disproportionately affect Black voters. Bastian expressed his unwavering commitment to Delta’s values and the importance of being a voice for his employees stating “Our goal is to keep ourselves out of the headlines. We don’t want to be seen as politicians. We want our customers to love us… But there are times where the values you stand for, particularly for your employees, matter. And you need to be their voice.” 

Was it easy? Absolutely not. Bastian faced a firestorm of criticism. Yet, he stood by his people, recognizing that Delta’s African American community felt targeted. As the largest employer of Black Americans in the state of Georgia, Delta’s commitment to social impact extends beyond mere rhetoric. Bastian understands the responsibility that comes with being an Impact Executive and the imperative to align actions with company values and purpose. 

Navigating when to speak up and take a stand on social issues can be challenging for executives, especially in today’s climate. However, the current business landscape demands that leaders go beyond mere lip service and actively engage in creating positive change. Bastian’s unwavering dedication to Delta’s values and purpose serves as an inspiration for other executives facing similar dilemmas. 

In a world where actions often speak louder than words, Bastian’s actions will continue to leave a lasting legacy.   

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