Unforgettable Herb Kelleher

Last Thursday, we lost probably the finest corporate leader I have known in my leadership development career: Herb Kelleher, cofounder and longtime CEO and president of Southwest Airlines. Not only was Herb the visionary who created the model for a low-fare, customer-first airline, he believed every executive is only as good as his or her people. And he walked his talk. More than anybody I’ve ever worked with, Herb Kelleher lived and breathed the philosophy that the number one customer of any organization is its people.

I first met Herb through Southwest’s president emeritus, Colleen Barrett. When Colleen ordered 30,000 copies of the book I coauthored with Barbara Glanz called The Simple Truths of Service: Inspired by Johnny the Bagger, I was so blown away by the size of the order that I flew to Dallas to meet her. Because Colleen and Herb had worked together since 1967 nurturing and grooming Southwest Airlines into one of the most admired companies in the world, meeting Colleen’s mentor and teammate was a foregone conclusion. From the moment I met him, I loved Herb’s big smile, tremendous sense of humor, and ability to bring insight and laughter to any situation.

I could tell many tales about my fun times with Herb, but my favorite story happened just after he had recorded his foreword for the audio version of Colleen’s and my coauthored book Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success.

“Let’s go get a drink!” said Herb. He was always ready to do that. We went back to my hotel where my wife, Margie, would be meeting me later so we could go to dinner with the board of directors for Halftime, a faith-based ministry founded by the late Bob Buford. (Margie still serves on the Halftime board.)

At the hotel bar, Herb and I started drinking sidecars, one of his favorite drinks, made up of three ingredients: Cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. By the time Margie arrived, let’s just say Herb and I were feeling no pain. Margie could easily tell I was not in any shape to go to dinner with a bunch of faith-based folks. When she began to give Herb a One Minute Reprimand, he held up his hands in surrender, saying, “Margie, this was all Ken’s idea! I’m usually a teetotaler!” We all had a good laugh about that.

Margie said, “Okay, Ken, you can come to dinner—just don’t say anything.”

Herb, now getting into the absurdity of the situation, said, “That would be something to see!”

So I went to the dinner. The seating was organized in a circle. When the waiter came around to take our appetizer order, I whispered, “I notice you have chocolate cake à la mode. Bring me that for my appetizer.” When the waiter put the cake in front of me, all conversation around the table stopped and all attention was focused on me and my appetizer/dessert. The cat was out of the bag—I was plastered.

When I called Herb the next day and told him what had happened, he roared. Suffice to say it cost me a lot of backrubs over the next few weeks to get Margie’s full forgiveness. After that incident, every time Margie and I saw Herb, the first thing out of his mouth was “Margie, that was not my fault!” and then we’d all laugh.

I’ll miss Herb—and not just because of the fun, fabulous human being he was. Herb taught me a lot about what it takes to be a pioneer, a maverick, an innovator, and a fabulous motivator of people. To Herb, the “business of business” was people.

A lot of folks are going to miss you, Herb, including the many thousands of employees of Southwest Airlines. You were the best in the business. Rest in peace and God bless.

New Year, New Goals: Don’t Go It Alone!

The New Year is fast approaching and here it comes again: New Year’s resolution time. Have you ever made New Year’s resolutions you didn’t keep? My experience is that all of us have had good intentions we didn’t follow through on over the years. We usually start out enthusiastic about the change but after a while our enthusiasm falls by the wayside. Why is that?

My friend Art Turock taught me that the problem stems from confusion between interest and commitment. For example, when interested walkers and joggers wake up and find it raining outside, they lie back down and think to themselves, “I’ll exercise tomorrow.” However, when committed exercisers wake up and find it’s raining, they get out of bed and think to themselves, “I’ll exercise inside today!” In other words:

They keep their commitment to their commitment.

So, let’s get real. What have you been wanting to do for a long time but just haven’t been able to get done? Maybe it has to do with your health and fitness. Or maybe it’s learning a new language, or getting organized, or cleaning out your garage. Whatever it is, that’s great. You’ve got your commitment. Now, how are you going to keep your commitment to your commitment?

First, don’t go it alone. The heroic legend of the lone wolf who succeeds at lofty goals through willpower alone is strong with many people. This “John Wayne myth” isn’t dead—it’s just not effective.  I should know. For years I could not keep my commitment to good health and wellness. I needed help.

That help eventually came from Tim Kearin, the health and fitness coach who had been patient with me for many years. Each year Tim listened to me announce my New Year’s resolution to improve my health and fitness—and each year he watched me not keep my commitment. Year after year we went through the same routine: Tim would receive a call from me early in the year to begin a fitness program. I would get underway with enthusiasm, but after a month or so I would gradually become too busy to keep my commitment to my commitment. The process would start again at the beginning of the following year.

The way I broke this ineffective cycle—and the way you can, too—was to follow the six principles outlined in Fit at Last, the book Tim and I wrote to document my fitness journey:

  1. Have Compelling Reasons and a Purpose
  2. Establish a Mutual Commitment to Success
  3. Apply SLII® (in other words, get the coaching and support that matches your development level)
  4. Develop Age-Appropriate Goals
  5. Set Up a Support System to Hold You Accountable
  6. Have Measurable Milestones to Stay Motivated

While these six principles were developed to accompany a fitness program, they can be adapted to any kind of goal accomplishment.  I’m happy to say that by applying these six principles, I’ve managed to maintain my health and fitness goals for the past five years.

You, too, can keep your commitment to your commitment. Just don’t be a lone wolf. Set yourself up to succeed by finding the coaching and support you need.

What’s Your Leadership Point of View?

Margie and I recently spent a wonderful weekend teaching our “Determining Your Leadership Point of View” class at the University of San Diego. It’s part of the Master of Science in Executive Leadership (MSEL) degree program offered by USD in partnership with our company.

I often start off training sessions with managers by asking: “How many of you consider yourself a leader?” Amazingly, only about 20 percent raise their hands. I think a lot of people believe that to be a leader you have to have a certain amount of power or an executive position—and for some reason they don’t think they have enough power or the right title yet. The second thing I say is: “Tell me about one or two people who have impacted your life the most.” Almost no one names a manager or supervisor; they all identify a parent, grandparent, their spouse or significant other, or a relative, coach, friend, or neighbor.

In life, everyone has the opportunity to lead. In fact, we all are leaders right now. Why do I say that? Because there are two different kinds of leadership roles: life (as a spouse, parent, or friend) and organizational (as a manager, supervisor, etc.). So everyone is a leader in some aspect of their life—even if they are a follower! In fact, my wife, Margie, wrote an article titled “In Praise of Followership” for the book Servant Leadership in Action. It’s all about how followers are also leaders.

Research proves that effective leaders exemplify and communicate to their followers a clear and consistent Leadership Point of View. The students in our MSEL class develop their own unique Leadership Point of View that they will be able to demonstrate to people who work with them. So often in organizations, people can’t figure out what’s important to their boss—what “makes them tick.” When direct reports are aware of their manager’s Leadership Point of View, that mystery is solved.

We tell our students that figuring out their unique Leadership Point of View is like writing a course on themselves. After they identify the people and events that have impacted their life the most, we ask them to think about what they learned from those people and experiences. How did those parts of their life influence their leadership style? What values did they instill? Then, based on those reflections, what do they expect of people who report to them now—and what can their people expect from them as a leader?

It is a fascinating process. As students unearth these thoughts and memories, they write their Leadership Point of View in a story format. Why? It’s a more authentic and personal way of communicating. Stories paint a picture that allows others to see the consistency between values, words, and actions. As students progress in their writing, they share their work in small groups of their classmates. At the end of the course, each student stands in front of the class and tells their leadership point of view story as if their fellow students were their team members at work. They get feedback from their classmates as well as from Margie and me.

What values have you developed through the important people and experiences in your life? Based on those reflections, what do you expect from your people and what can they expect from you as their boss? I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Leadership Point of View process in the comments below.

Now More Than Ever: A Leadership Vision for America

Several years ago, I was struck by how many people were expressing disappointment with what was going on in Washington. No matter which side of the political fence they were on, people agreed that special interests and partisan gridlock were hurting our nation’s ability to govern itself.

It occurred to me that four leadership secrets I’d learned over the years could lead to effective solutions to the problems in our nation’s capital. In response, I wrote a white paper entitled “A Leadership Vision for America: Rebuilding a Divided House.”

Recently, Don Miller—the bestselling author and creator of StoryBrand—was inspired by my four secrets and became determined to share my thinking with key people in Washington. Drawing on his extensive contacts, he and our Blanchard colleague, Sheri Lyons, were able to present my white paper and discuss its ideas with key people in the office of the vice president in Washington, DC.

You may remember the 12-part blog series I wrote from June 2012 – November 2012 about those leadership secrets. Here they are in a nutshell:

  • Create a Compelling Vision. We no longer know what business we are in as a country (our purpose), what we are trying to accomplish (our picture of the future) or what should drive our behavior as a country (our values). The Bible says that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” That doesn’t sound promising! We need a big picture vision we can all agree upon.
  • Treat citizens as business partners. Most of us are in the dark about the bills that are being passed and generally what’s going on besides chaos. We need greater transparency in government.
  • Invite every sector of society to the table. There are several sectors in our nation. In the public sector we have government, education, and the military. In the private sector we have business, the media, and the arts. In the social sector we have families, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits. Right now, the only two big voices are government and business; the other sectors are left out of the process. We need all voices to be heard and considered.
  • Elect servant leaders. Servant leaders do not focus on winning. Instead, they focus on the well-being of the communities they serve. Until we elect representatives who put service ahead of ego and ideology, our government won’t improve.

In the years since I wrote “A Leadership Vision for America,” disappointment with Washington has turned to embarrassment. We certainly need some different thinking if we are going to rebuild a divided house. In the meantime, let’s pray that representatives in our nation’s capital start caring more about helping America regain its reputation as “a shining city upon a hill” than getting re-elected.

 

Taking Care of Each Other

My prayers and love go out to all of the folks whose lives have been impacted by the terrible fires in Northern and Southern California. Special prayers go out to families and friends of people who have perished in these fires. Times like this emphasize how much we need to care about each other and live every moment to the fullest—because we never know what’s around the corner.

Margie and I know what it’s like to have a home destroyed by fire: in 2007 we lost our house of 25 years in the Witch fire here in San Diego. We were out of town when it happened. When we were finally allowed back in our neighborhood, we walked down our driveway and our whole place looked like it had been cremated, including our cars. We were fortunate—although losing our house and all of our possessions was devastating, nobody got hurt.

Special praisings go out to the selfless firefighters who have come from all over to put their lives on the line as they battle the fires. Without them, the devastation could be so much worse. Many thanks as well to other courageous first responders including police and EMTs, as well as volunteers staffing the shelters that have been set up for displaced people, pets, and livestock. We are blessed to have these amazing servant leaders aiding our communities during this tough time.

Please take care of yourselves and those you love—and always keep your “I love yous” up to date!