Leadership and Love—Why they are a perfect match

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Ken Blanchard is a big fan of Colleen Barrett, the president emeritus of Southwest Airlines (NYSE symbol: LUV) who has worked closely with founder Herb Kelleher for more than 30 years.

“She does the things I write about,” says Blanchard. “The stuff that I’ve learned and taught over the years, it’s all in there with a real person who did it.”

That’s why Blanchard was so eager to work with Barrett on a new book that captures the real-life leadership examples that have made Southwest Airlines a model of good management. Titled Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success, it’s just out in bookstores this month.

“I’ve always admired Southwest Airlines,” explains Blanchard. “Especially when you look at how they have succeeded in a tough industry by putting their people first—all 35,000 of them.”

Showcasing a real success story about putting employees first was part of the reason Blanchard wanted to get the incredible story out. He also wanted the opportunity to work with Barrett, who models what Blanchard calls a servant’s heart. Her career began as an executive secretary and culminated with her promotion to president when Herb Kelleher tapped her for the top spot after he stepped down in 2001.

“I think that’s the genius of Herb Kelleher,” explains Blanchard. “Because if you look at servant leadership, there are two parts that every leader needs to embody. First is the strategic aspect, which is about vision and direction. But once everyone is clear on where you are going, then philosophically, you have to turn the organizational pyramid upside-down for operational leadership. That’s the servant aspect of servant leadership.

“What Herb Kelleher intuitively knew is that he didn’t want some outside egomaniac coming in and changing the vision, direction, or values of the company. What he wanted was somebody who had a natural servant heart; who was already philosophically turning the pyramid upside-down.

“Herb promoting Colleen to the top spot is an example of the type of thinking that makes Southwest different from most other organizations. Southwest leaders see their role as supporting the people closest to the customer. They move themselves to the bottom of the organizational pyramid and work as supporters and cheerleaders.”

Blanchard recounts a story Barrett told him that illustrates this attitude. An officer of Southwest was having trouble getting an appointment with founder Herb Kelleher. Finally getting in, he exclaimed, “Herb, it’s easier for a ramp agent to get in here to see you than it is for me.” And Kelleher replied, “That’s the way it should be.”

Leaders at Southwest also demonstrate love in action by remembering anniversaries and kids’ graduations and everything else. In Colleen’s case that meant more than 100,000 letters to the 35,000 employees of the company coming out of her office every year—including 2,500 that she wrote herself.

Can Be a Hard Sell

Blanchard admits that convincing senior executives that leadership and love go together can be challenging.

“How those two concepts go together can be hard to understand at first. There is a family-like quality to it,” explains Blanchard. “It’s about loving your mission, it’s about loving your people, it’s about loving your customers, and it’s about loving yourself enough to get out of the way so that other people can be magnificent.”

Blanchard points to Garry Ridge, the CEO of WD-40 Company, as another leader who truly lives the servant leader philosophy with great results. Blanchard shares something Ridge told him once: “Leadership is not all that complicated if you realize that it’s just like sitting down and having a cup of coffee with your mom. It’s about having conversations with people—showing them that you care, listening to them, and being with them. It’s not being about you.”

That’s a new concept for many managers, explains Blanchard, because they often believe that their job is to sort people into a normal distribution curve using a rank-ordered performance review system.

Drawing on CEO Ridge’s analogy of talking with your mom, Blanchard points out that your mom “doesn’t think you’re just part of a normal distribution. She thinks you’re special, wants you to win, cares about you, and wants to know if there is any way that she can help.

“Colleen is the model for love and fun at Southwest. She’s always been the head mom at Southwest,” he says.

“The old way of looking at leadership was a hierarchy and command-and-control. What we’re saying in this book is that you should turn the pyramid upside-down when it comes to implementation. That requires a certain level of humility,” explains Blanchard.

“Norman Vincent Peale and I had a definition:

People with humility don’t think less of themselves,

they just think about themselves less.

“Great leadership begins on the inside. And the reason that Colleen Barrett is able to praise and encourage so many people is because she is very comfortable with who she is. She knows her strengths and her weaknesses—and she is fine with them.”

For leaders concerned that a focus on people might lead to an organization losing sight of results, Blanchard says not to see it as an either/or decision. “Leading with love means that you care about both results and people. In the foreword to our book, Herb Kelleher says that people need psychic satisfaction in their work. He asks, ‘Why shouldn’t a business simply be an enlargement of our circle of family and friends?’ As Southwest has proven over the last 40 years, you get great results and a great level of satisfaction when everybody contributes and pulls together.”

Source: Ignite Newsletter, ken Blanchard Companies, December 2010

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