Lead with LUV

I’m really excited about my brand-new book, Lead with LUV, that I wrote with Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines. The reason I’m excited about it is that if I were asked to leave a legacy of my thinking today, this would be it. The world is in desperate need of this message of love and people first.

If you know anything about Southwest Airlines, you know they’re all about love. (They sometimes spell it L-U-V because LUV is their symbol on the New York Stock Exchange.) They love their people and they love their customers. They love their work and take it seriously—but they don’t take themselves seriously.

For example, a colleague of mine was flying on Southwest recently when the attendant got on the public address system and said:

“You know, this is the last flight of the day and we’re really tired. To be honest with you, we don’t have the energy to pass out the peanuts, so we’re going to put them on the floor in the front the plane and when we take off and gain altitude, they’ll slide down the aisle.  If you want some nuts, just grab them.”

And that’s what happened! The whole airplane was in hysterics—laughing, having fun, grabbing peanuts, passing them to their neighbors—just having a blast!

That’s leading with LUV. How different is that than your typical experience on most airlines, where everyone seems so uptight?

Leading with LUV is about treating your customers right. Southwest really gets this. For example, when you call most airlines to change a reservation, you usually get a recording that says they really value your business, but all of their operators are busy right now; they’ll get to you as soon as possible. Then the music starts.  You could be waiting on hold for fifteen or twenty minutes or more.

But when you call Southwest Airlines, you usually get an operator, and if you don’t, you get a recording that says, “Your business is really important to us.  We’re sorry all of our operators are busy right now, but at the beep, please leave your name and phone number and we’ll get back to you in ten minutes.”

I did this recently, and you know what happened in ten minutes?  My phone rang and somebody said, “Is this Ken Blanchard?”

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“This is Bob from Southwest Airlines,” he said. “How can I help you?”

Now that’s what I call raving fan service! And that’s how you lead with LUV. No wonder Southwest is the only airline that has consistently turned a profit while the others have struggled.

These heart-warming stories don’t happen by accident. When an organization has happy people, happy customers, and happy shareholders, it’s because the leadership has created a culture that supports leading with LUV.  So, how do you do that?

First, you have to create a vision—something to love, something with a higher purpose than just making money. Southwest’s vision was that all people—not just the elite—would be able to afford to fly.

Second, you have to create the rules of the road—the values that will guide people as they work toward that higher purpose. For example, Southwest has three values:

  • A Warrior Spirit
  • A Servant’s Heart
  • A Fun-LUVing Attitude

Third, once you have the vision in place and the values established, the leaders have to get out of the way so they can cheer people on to achieve the vision. This means turning the traditional pyramidal hierarchy upside-down, so that the leaders support their people, rather than vice versa.

What does this look like in the real world? How do you, as a leader, lead with LUV?

First, by acknowledging people. When she was president of Southwest, Colleen Barrett sent out thousands of hand-written notes to her people every year, celebrating their successes, sympathizing with their losses, and thanking them for being extraordinary.

Second, by backing people up. Southwest founder Herb Kelleher once got a letter from a grumpy customer complaining about how much it bothered him that the flight attendants goofed off during the safety announcement. Because a Fun-LUVing Attitude is a Southwest value and this was a customer who tended to complain a lot, Herb didn’t apologize or offer him a coupon. Instead he wrote back, “We’ll miss you.” He stood by the values and the people of Southwest.

The third way to lead with LUV is to make your people your business partners. For example, pilots at Southwest have personally paid for hotel rooms for customers who, because of bad weather, had to spend the night in an unfamiliar city. The pilots could see that the people needed help. Because the pilots knew they were Southwest’s business partners, they didn’t call and ask, “Is it okay? Will I get reimbursed?” They led with LUV and created grateful, satisfied customers.

Leading with LUV is not soft management—it’s smart management. When you put positive relationships ahead of profits, you end up with an abundance of both.

Someone once said to my wife, “Margie, you’ve lived with Ken for almost fifty years. What do you think leadership is?”

Margie nailed it when she said, “Leadership IS love, it’s not about love.  It’s loving your mission, it’s loving your people, it’s loving your customers, and it’s loving yourself enough to let other people be magnificent.”

I couldn’t say it any better. So if you’re looking for satisfying, long-term success, remember: Leading with LUV is not about somebody else in some other organization. Leading with love is about you. So treat your colleagues and your customers like family, and Lead with LUV.

Here are a few other great things we’re doing around the book:

  • We opened a new webpage for people to learn more about how our company uses the Lead with LUV principles at www.leadwithluv.com. You can even watch Southwest’s fantastic corporate video!
  • Do you know someone who leads with LUV? There are two ways you can let the world know about it:
    • Go to our Lead with LUV page on HowWeLead and post your story in the comments section. Do you know of a great video like Southwest’s? You can even embed a YouTube video if you like!
    • Catch someone doing things right via Twitter. Use the hashtag #leadwithluv and post a quick Tweet about a friend or coworker who exhibits these great qualities.
  • Watch a video introduction by Colleen and myself, read the first chapter of the book, and learn more about leading with LUV at our book page.

Have a great day!

Keep Your To-Do List in Perspective

This is the time of year when a lot of people get stressed. You know—running around, making sure they have every present bought and everything done for holiday and new years parties and all that. The holidays can turn into a burden rather than a blessing. This is supposed to be the season of joy and love, not of trouble and hassle. Stress is a major problem this time of year because people have so many “to do” lists. They forget why they’re doing it and get too much into the doing. Too often this time of year we’re human doings rather than human beings. I just want you to check yourself, as I need to check myself as I run around and try to get things done at the end of the year, that I’m a human being, not a human doing.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t get things done and crossed off your list—just don’t make “list accomplishment” the goal of this holiday season.

Make LOVE the goal of the season. Reach out to everyone you talk to and wish them the greatest holiday—the greatest Christmas—the greatest New Year. Just tell them you care about them. Maybe you couldn’t find right present for someone. Perhaps you should sit down and write that person a note about how much you care about them and let them know you’ll send them something after the holidays. Sometimes during this time of year, I like to go through my phone directory and call people I haven’t talked to in a while, and just tell them I care about them. That, to me, is a joyful thing to do this time of year. So what can you do to make this a joyous time, rather than a hassled time?

Have a wonderful Christmas day. Life is a very special occasion if you keep your “to do” list in perspective.

Managing Through the Holidays

The holiday season presents some different challenges for leaders.  Here is some advice I’ve found can help you to get the most out of this special time.

Get in the holiday spirit.  It’s important for leaders to get into the holiday spirit.  It’s a wonderful time of the year when people want to feel good and connected to each other.  It is a time to capitalize on team building and allow workers to get to know each other better. Yet often managers end up acting like Scrooge by being too busy or demanding of themselves and of their people.  Bosses can really ruin the holidays by being grumpy, under stress and too demanding.  Try to be a little more lenient, supportive and willing to “go with the flow” in appreciating the time you have and the people you have to work with.

Focus on what has to be done. It’s important during the holidays to be clear with everybody on their key goals.  What are the significant things that really have to get done during the holiday season to keep business running as usual?  It’s good to write down these goals so that people are better able to work harder earlier in the season if they are going to be less focused later on.  This is especially true if, for your business, the holiday season is one of the busiest time of the year.

Be flexible with employees. Be more flexible in terms of the hours your people work, depending on their needs.  Is there a way they can have a couple of hours off so they can get some of their shopping done and make the time up later?  A lot of people have family and friends fly in and would love to have flexible work hours to accommodate them.  How could the company help employees save time?  For example, at our company, we have people fill out a form that allows them to mail their packages from our company.

Avoid negative news. Don’t use the holiday season to give employees negative news.  It is not a time of the year to catch people doing things wrong, nor it is a time to accent the negative.  Instead, do your best to redirect employees without being punitive.  Save more substantive performance issues for after the new year.  And don’t turn what should be good news into bad news by poor timing.  For example, if you are planning to give employees extra days off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, tell them far enough in advance so that they can make plans for that time.  Otherwise, they might end up at home watching television and griping about you.

Be sensitive to different religions. Be sensitive to those who don’t celebrate Christmas.  You might set aside some time when people could share information about their religious or cultural celebrations.  For example, one of our Jewish employees had people who wanted to find out more about the meaning of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights celebration, meet him for lunch.

Be creative about celebrating the season. Your celebration doesn’t have to be lavish for it to be effective.  You might want to do an activity rather than hosting a party where everyone just sits around and drinks.  It might even allow for more bonding to do something like caroling that allows for a shared experience away from the office.  Another fun group activity that we’ve done is to take the time for our work group to read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol together, giving each employee a role to read.  Activities such as these can help you avoid getting into the position where you have to worry about serving alcohol to people and having them drive home.

Whenever possible, include families in holiday activities.  We had an artist come to our company one year during the holidays to teach everybody how to paint landscapes.  There were four sessions and everyone could bring their spouses, kids, and parents.  The artist dressed everybody up in French berets and artist aprons.  At the end of the activity she touched up the pictures and then we had them framed.  It was really a lot of fun.

Have fun with celebrations. Think of fun ways to celebrate the season.  I love those parties where everyone buys a three-to-five dollar gift, numbers the gift, and then people pick numbers and open the gifts one at a time.  The person opening the gift has the option of keeping what they open or trading it for one of the already opened gifts. That can turn into a pretty lively time! You can also have people exchange funny cards that they have either bought or made.  You could even set somebody up to be a “Secret Santa,” leaving anonymous gifts for random employees.

Make the spirit last all year long. A few years ago, after the holiday season had ended, several of our employees at The Ken Blanchard Companies asked, “Why does the spirit have to end at the end of the year?”  From that question sprang an employee-run program called “Blanchard for Others” which sponsors local charities and hosts all kinds of fundraising events through the year. Each year they raise tens of thousands of dollars for charity.  We now have the holiday spirit year round.

So get in the holiday spirit this year!  Go with the flow, lighten up, and enjoy this special time with your employees and with your families.

The Power of Gratitude

I have a long-time friend named Walter Green who just wrote a book called This Is the Moment! Walter, in his 70th year, decided he would make a list of the people who really impacted his life at different stages. He had to locate some he had lost contact with, but over the year he traveled the country and met with 44 people to thank them and tell them how important they were to his life. I think the book’s real message is the enormous power of gratitude. Walter wrote this book to motivate all of us.

Are there people in your life who have really made a difference? Have you reached out to thank them? Have you thanked your parents, friends, mentors—perhaps a teacher, professor, or colleague who had an impact on your life? Don’t wait to reach out. This is the moment.

Yesterday, just one day after being inspired by Walter’s book, I had the perfect opportunity to put his idea into action. Every morning, our newspaper delivery person drives through our oval driveway and drops off the paper right at our front door so we don’t have to go to the end of the driveway to retrieve it. I’ve always wanted to thank her for this courtesy, and yesterday morning I saw her through the window just as she was getting out of the car to deliver the paper. I met her at the front door and said, “I just want to tell you how fabulous and caring you are, and what a difference you make, and how much we appreciate what you do,” and I gave her a little money. Her face just lit up and she almost had tears in her eyes as she gave me a hug. She said, “You’re really special,” and I said, “I’m not special. You are.”

This morning, tucked into the newspaper, I found a note from her. On the outside of the envelope was written: “To a great and loyal customer.”  This is so consistent with what Blanchard research has found:  If you hire passionate people, they want to go out and take care of your customers. Then the customers become loyal and get excited about the company and tell others, and it keeps going back and forth—and that’s what makes a great organization.

On the card inside it said: “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You made my day yesterday. I was flying high on a cloud of appreciation. Your recognition of my service to you has revived me. Thank you for taking the time to think about me.”  Then she signed her name and phone number and wrote: “Please call if you ever have a bad or poor quality paper delivered.” Isn’t that amazing?  It made me feel good to read her note.

I hope this motivates you to reach out and thank people who have done special things for you—people who have made a difference in your life, whether big or small.  If we all took the time to do this, think of the difference we could make in the lives of others. So reach out and say “thank you.” It’s such an easy way to make another person feel special, and it is guaranteed to boost your spirits, too.  Have a great week.

Take what you do seriously, but yourself lightly

I had a wonderful time recently, playing in a charity golf tournament with coworkers Steve Murphy, Randy Conley, and Brent Bystedt. It was really a lot of fun; we played a scramble.

One of the things it reminded me of—and this is so important to Colleen Barrett and Herb Kelleher at Southwest—is you really have fun in life and do well when you take what you do seriously, but yourself lightly. That was really evident as we were playing golf. We were trying to do the best we can, but we were laughing and enjoying ourselves. I don’t think there’s anybody who is more fun to be around than Steve Murphy. He’s one of our great consulting partners and he is absolutely fun. He takes what he does seriously but himself lightly, and I think that’s what endears him to clients. Continue reading