I’m about to celebrate my two-week anniversary here at Southwest (cupcakes, anyone?) and have had some time to reflect on being the new kid on the block. My first day began with a Wild Turkey Call Contest at lunch–a rite of passage I think everyone should go through. The next day I was treated to a Thanksgiving feast that put my Grammy’s down-home affair to shame (sorry, Grammy.) As I’m settling in, I realize the rumors are true. Everyone is incredibly sweet and helpful, a sense of family is prevalent anywhere you go, and there are always snacks in the break room. I look forward to gaining my Southwest Freshman 15. Oh, and I get to go on field trips to faraway, exotic lands: like Studios 21 in Fort Worth, TX for an official Live Chat.
Okay, so it wasn’t necessarily live, but it was a “bright lights, big studio” situation. I had the pleasure and privilege of being a studio audience member on Tuesday, December 1st. Patrick Lencioni, president of the Table Group, sat down with our own Colleen Barrett to get her words of wisdom on the secret of Southwest’s success.
Turns out, there are no secrets. And in the beginning, there was no master plan. In fact, Colleen’s reply to Patrick’s question about retaining their underdog status was surprising. She said if it hadn’t been for bigger and wealthier airlines picking on us, Southwest could have failed within the first year. As it was, our legal battles and early challenges gave birth to one of our Core Values: the Warrior Spirit. Turns out constantly being pushed to search for innovative solutions to early start-up problems was actually a blessing in disguise. So when life gives you lemons, make…Wild Turkey on the rocks?
As many of you may know, living the Southwest way has called for embracing three Core Values: the Warrior Spirit, a Servant’s Heart, and a Fun-LUVing attitude. But it turns out Colleen was against putting these intangible attitudes into writing for a long time.
“I fought with them eight or nine months,” she said concerning the effort. She felt (and for good reason) that trying to define a company’s spirit in just a few words would limit them. Another anecdote I loved had to do with Herb Kelleher, Colleen, and a bunch of consultants trying to come up with the Company’s mission statement. After hours of frustration, Herb politely asked the consultants to go: “We’ll pay you your money, but just leave. We’ll write it ourselves.”
It’s that can-do, stubborn, entrepreneurial spirit that lives on at Southwest today. And it was a trait Patrick couldn’t get enough of. He praised Southwest’s uniqueness and humility, while emphasizing that he was not on the company payroll! As the president of The Table Group, a consulting firm focused on building healthy organizations, Patrick’s admiration of Southwest was heartfelt. “It’s an outstanding company, but it’s also messy. There are no ‘Stepford Wives’ types there.” As he went on to describe Southwest as “the one family on the block with toys and tricycles in the front yard, and always-open doors,” I felt extremely lucky to have found my way into this “messy” family—tricycles or not.
If you happen to have access to the SkillSoft’s Leadership Development Channel, I highly recommend you check this Live Chat out. You can find more information at http://www.skillsoft.com/products/LDC/ I’ll be the one waving in the back.