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!