Lead with Love - Southwest Airlines

Lead with Love - Southwest Airlines


I attended the Association of Strategic Planning Conference last year where we met Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines Co., and she spoke. I was surprised and delighted with how down to earth she is. Instead of wearing the typical power suit, she wore a knitted scarf that was comfortably draped over her shoulders. She looked like an ideal mother or young grandmother that you and I would feel comfortable opening up with. She wouldn’t be hurried, and you knew her total focus would be on you. You’d feel she would listen to you intensely, but not hesitate to share what you needed to hear.

As she spoke to us, she was indeed who she portrayed. She had a confidence that helped her to just be her. No pretense and no show was necessary. 

So, What is a Leader?

So, what really is a leader? Jim Collins in his book Good to Great found that the top executives of the truly great companies were humble, even uncharismatic people who were incredibly passionate about the organization’s mission and their people. Colleen is charismatic in a good way, because she radiates love, and no wonder Southwest has been the most profitable airlines – in a tough industry and during economic tough times!

At the conference, Colleen shared with us a book that she and Ken Blanchard published together titled, Lead with LUV. Below are comments about Colleen from Ken Blanchard:

  • Once, there was a remarkable person who led with love. Her company succeeded where its competitors struggled. Customers were loyal, employees loved to work there, and it was profitable year after year-for decades.
  • Colleen Barrett began her career as an executive secretary, yet Southwest Airlines’ founder chose her to succeed him as president. When asked why, he said, “Because she knows how to love people to success.”
  • Lead with LUV is an extraordinary, wide-ranging conversation between Barrett and Ken Blanchard. Together, they reveal why leading with love is the most powerful way to lead, how to make it work, and how it can help you achieve unprecedented business performance.
  • Southwest Airlines is the most profitable airlines today. Why? Because they always strive to focus on and care about each other as associates and the customers. (KenBlanchard.com)

See the Real Colleen as Employees Surprise Her

Start Your Planning Process By Establishing The Right Environment

Start your strategic planning by agreeing to important principles that you will strive to focus on to guide you throughout the process.

Here are some tips:

  • The golden rule should motivate you and me. It is the highest motivational force there is. It inspires, it persuades, it is patient, it is candid, and above all it builds. Love can’t be directed or dictated but has to be desired and worked at individually and as a group.
  • Someone with a domineering personality can be destructive to a strategic planning process. When we dominate we seek to force and manipulate so that our interests come to pass. The motivation forces that are focused on here are fear, ego or greed – all self-serving and destructive.
  • Learn to really communicate together and as a group. That means creating a safe environment and striving to really understand what everyone thinks and feels as it relates to building the organization and its people.

Find Your Sweet Spot and Paint a Picture That Truly Inspires 

  • Covey calls this to “begin with end in mind.” Often organizations create a vision statement. The problem with a vision statement is they are words. Do words best communicate noble passions and hopes? Images and stories paint a much clearer picture and stay in our minds longer.
  • Start the exercise by getting everyone involved in the planning efforts to share their thoughts and feelings. Seek to really understand.

Focus on the Hedgehog Concept

Let’s review the hedgehog concept that Jim Collins shared in his book Good to Great. Jim led a team in a five-year study in which he and his team “scoured a list of 1,435 established companies to find every extraordinary case that made a leap from average results to great results.”

Jim’s team came to simple but powerful conclusions. One important point they make is referred to as the ‘hedgehog’ concept. A key to greatness is finding the intersection, referred to as the sweet spot, between your talent, passion, and economic opportunity. Jim’s diagram below helps to illustrate these points.

Passion: What are you deeply passion about?

Most businesses are focused on making money first. Is money a strong enough motivator to create tremendous value to customers?

Talent: What you can be the best in the world?

“In the case of Google, they said, “we do search. With one of the world’s largest research groups focused exclusively on solving search problems, we know what we do well, and how we could do it better.”

Economics: What drives your economic engine? In other words, how can you focus on your passions and talents and make a living?

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