Relationships Need All the HELP They Can Get

It’s summer—the peak season for weddings, so I hear! I’ve had the honor and privilege of officiating several weddings over the past ten or twelve years, and every couple I’ve married has been excited and hopeful about their future. Realistically, though, we all know there is real work involved on both sides if two people are committed to making a marriage—or any loving relationship—succeed.

Of course, Margie and I aren’t marriage counselors, but I think because we’ve been happily married more than 57 years now, people occasionally ask us to address the topic. As a result, we’ve developed an acronym called HELP—Humor, Ego (getting rid of it), Listening, and Praising—a framework that spouses and other romantic partners can use to examine their relationship and keep it moving in a positive direction.

Humor. If there is anything that every relationship needs, it’s laughter. I’ve heard it said that a four-year-old child laughs between 200 and 300 times a day, while most adults laugh only 10 to 15 times a day. The older we get, the more serious we seem to get about life. So try taking your relationship seriously but yourself lightly. When I say something that gets a good laugh out of Margie, that makes my day. Start off every day with cheerful good humor.

Ego. Let me explain what I mean by ego—I’m not talking about self-esteem. We all need to feel good about who we are. Strong self-esteem is necessary to handle the bumps and bruises of everyday life. The ego problems I’m talking about are false pride and self-doubt. People with false pride put themselves in the center of their world and think more of themselves than they should. They think they can solve every problem alone. People with self-doubt are hard on themselves and think less of themselves than they should. They are consumed with their own shortcomings. When either kind of ego problem gets in the way of a marriage, it Edges Good Out. Don’t let that happen! Always keep your ego in check.

Listening. No matter how long you have been with your partner, it is never a bad idea to practice listening. Margie and I sometimes facilitate at marriage retreats where we put couples through a powerful listening exercise called Heart to Heart. Couples begin by sitting in chairs, facing each other, with their knees touching.

There are three rounds to this activity. During the first round, one partner shares by finishing this sentence: “Something I want you to know about me is…” The partner listening must verbally respond in one of three ways: “I understand,” “Thank you,” or “Tell me more.” Each partner takes turns sharing, with the other partner responding.

The second round is similar, but each partner shares: “A concern I have…” Once again, their mate responds in one of the three ways to each concern that is shared, and they take turns.

The final round is where each partner shares: “Something I admire about you is…” Again, their partner responds with either “I understand”, “thank you” or “tell me more” to each statement.

This exercise has been a big hit in our sessions. The couples find this to be a valuable method of communicating thoughts in an honest, nonthreatening way. Give it a try.

Praising. The concept of praise is so key in marriage relationships—particularly in keeping them strong and healthy over the years. We all know when you first fall in love, you start off catching each other doing things right. Over time, though, things tend to shift and you may find yourselves catching each other doing things wrong and accentuating the negative. Don’t forget that you need to stay positive and continue to praise each other’s progress—it’s a moving target!

Whether you’re newlyweds, a long-married couple, or in any other kind of loving relationship, it’s important to keep things moving in a positive direction. Remember our HELP tips: keep your sense of Humor, get your Ego out of the way, always Listen to each other, and don’t forget the power of Praising. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be like us and make it past the 57-year mark—and we’re still going strong!

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.