The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service

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There’s a reason Colleen is known at Southwest as the “Queen of Hearts.” Her Servant’s Heart Leadership was foundational in building the exemplary Culture and Customer Service for which Southwest is known. Here, we explore the key tenets that define her Leadership style.

Colleen’s Core Values

The Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”

“My biggest expectation with our People is that they be egalitarian in nature. When I use the word egalitarian, I mean that everybody has the right to be treated with respect, and everyone should be required to treat others with respect. And, perhaps more importantly, everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute to the overall success and well-being of the Company.”

Warrior Spirit

“It’s the determination to follow through on a vision, mission, or goal. The focus is on giving your all to get the best results so everyone wins—your People, your Customers, your owners, and the communities in which you serve. We think there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best at what you do.”

“We empower our People to use common sense and good judgment. When our People realize they can be trusted and they’re not going to get called on the carpet because they bend or break a rule while taking care of a Customer—that’s when they want to do their best. Our People understand that as long as the Customer Service decisions they make are not illegal, unethical, or immoral, they are free to do the right thing while using their best judgment—even if that means bending or breaking a rule or a procedure in the process. Servant Leadership and empowering your People is not soft management; it is management that not only gets great results but generates great satisfaction for both our Employees and our Customers.”

Servant’s Heart

“When we interview, hire, and promote, we’re looking for People who are Servant Leaders—no matter what title or position they are going to hold, they have to want to serve. They need to have a Servant’s Heart—a passion for serving others.”

“Our entire philosophy of Leadership is quite simple: Treat your People right, and good things will happen. When we talk to our People, we proudly draw a pyramid on the chalkboard and tell them: You are at the top of the pyramid. You are the most important Person to us. You are our most important Customer in terms of priority. Therefore, I am going to spend 80% of my time treating you with Golden Rule behavior and trying to make sure you have an enjoyable work environment where you feel good about what you do, about yourself, and about your position within this Company. But if I do that, what I want in exchange is for you to do the same thing by offering our Passengers—who are our second Customer in terms of priority—the same kind of warmth, caring, and fun spirit. If you do that consistently, our Passengers will recognize how significantly different this is from the behavior they witness at other businesses, and they will come back for more.”

Fun-LUVing Attitude

“Basically, a Fun-LUVing Attitude means just that: We want to enjoy our work life as much as we do our home life. We want to show each other and our valued Customers that we care about them, and we want them to feel like extended family members while they are in our presence. We have fun, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we maintain perspective, we celebrate successes, we enjoy work, and we are passionate Team players.”

“To sustain our Company Culture, we cheer People on all the time. We celebrate little things, big things—we celebrate everything! Although we do have some formal celebrations, a lot of them are informal, spontaneous celebrations that cost little or no money. For example, just giving People chocolates when something good has happened can make them feel like you’ve given them a million dollars. What’s important is the fact that you’re honoring them and acknowledging that what they do makes a positive difference. In the process, you are making heroes out of them. You are letting them know that you love them for their efforts and you want everybody to celebrate their success.”

Colleen’s Words to Live By

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