Proof, Not Promise: 3 Keys to Powerful Leadership from Oscar Munoz

Mar 25, 2024

Oscar Munoz, former CEO of United Airlines, recently shared his “Proof, not promise” leadership approach during a conversation with Joelle Martinez, LLI President & CEO. Munoz’s career journey exemplifies the impact of Latino leaders at the highest levels. His story offers valuable inspiration for Latino leaders navigating the ongoing challenge of the Latino executive leadership gap.

Here are three key takeaways from his inspiring remarks.

Photo: University of Colorado Denver Business School

1. The Power of Your Story
Munoz stressed the importance of sharing your full story as a powerful tool for effective leadership. He himself didn’t embrace this concept until later in his career.

Context: Raised by his grandmother in northern Mexico before later reuniting with his mother and uncle in California, Munoz’s formative years instilled valuable lessons in integrity, determination, and entrepreneurship. Despite his success climbing the corporate ladder, it was when he finally shared these experiences and his background that his leadership truly flourished.

Why it Matters: Embracing our personal stories allows us as leaders to connect with ourselves and others on a deeper level. It also helps us understand our expertise and overcome self-doubt by recognizing our strengths and qualifications.

Munoz’s Words:

“My career was doing fine. But when I let everybody in, my career – it skyrocketed. Family life? Friendships? They skyrocketed. I became this guy I am sitting here today. Affable, serious when needed, and certainly successful.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Embracing your story is part of your journey to knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a leader
  • Sharing your story fosters more meaningful connections and inspiration

Photo: University of Colorado Denver Business School

2. Knowledge of Contribution: Self-Assessment Matters
Munoz discussed “knowledge of contribution,” which involves honest self-assessment and recognizing your own skills as a leader. This approach helps overcome self-doubt and prepares you for opportunities.

Why it Matters: Self-awareness and recognizing your contributions are crucial for leadership. Munoz emphasized delivering results, not just having a vision. This means leveraging your “knowledge of contribution” – understanding your own skills and limitations.

For example: In 2015, United Airlines was in freefall when Munoz, a seasoned executive leader, took over. Although he had never led a U.S. airline before, he credits his leadership strength of bringing people together to help deliver outcomes, not empty promises. His decision to conduct an early listening tour of the company’s employees helped turn around the business and build trust with employees, shareholders, and customers.

Key Quote:

“Don’t wait until later in life to really figure out the things you’re good at and the things you’re not good at. You are much better off realizing the things you’re good at and getting better at the ones you aren’t.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Self-awareness builds confidence and leadership readiness
  • Recognizing your contribution fosters excellence and self-assurance
  • Appreciating your skills leads to better preparation


Photo: University of Colorado Denver Business School

3. Build Meaningful Relationships

Munoz highlighted the need for deep connections and understanding in professional relationships, including mentors and colleagues. He stressed that surface-level support isn’t enough, and that investing in relationships builds personal and professional growth.

Why it Matters: Investing time and effort into building deep connections creates a network of opportunities and supports your self-knowledge of contribution.

Key Takeaways:

  • Building relationships requires genuine connections and understanding
  • Cultivating relationships that grow with you helps you deepen your knowledge of self

Photo: University of Colorado Denver Business School


Embrace Your Story, Know Your Strengths, and Build Relationships
These three takeaways from Munoz’s conversation offer valuable lessons for personal and professional growth. By embracing your story, investing in self-awareness, and cultivating meaningful relationships, you can become a more powerful and effective leader.

Explore further: Delve deeper into Oscar Munoz’s journey and leadership philosophy in his book Turnaround Time: Uniting an Airline and Its Employees in the Friendly Skies.


Let’s Lead Together: The Latino Leadership Institute (LLI) bridges Latino talent and opportunity to power U.S. Latino economic mobility through an activated network, career advancement, entrepreneurship, and thought leadership.

Thank You: A very special thank you to the University of Colorado Denver Business School, Colorado Technology Association, and United Airlines for their partnership in making this event possible.