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

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Communication: Communicating Through Storytelling

I recently read an article showcasing some of the most influential speakers of our time. Each has their individual style, but what caught my attention most is what they have in common—their messages are almost always anchored in a story. Not just any story. Their story. It’s personal and relatable. It creates a sense of trust that invites the audience into the moment. Effective storytelling is a powerful relational dynamic. It’s also a cornerstone in the cultural foundation of Southwest Airlines.

In my 20+ years as an Employee, I’ve been blessed with the privilege of staying in touch with Colleen (the namesake of the CCB Institute!). I’m not exaggerating when I say over 80% of our time together is spent communicating through storytelling. We reminisce. We connect. We solution. We laugh. She always has that warm sparkle in her eyes and smile. It’s a precious experience, and I always come away with an even deeper understanding of why Southwest Airlines is so firmly rooted in: service to others, finding humor in each day, and working for the collective good of our Company and humanity.

Those roots come from what some call a “Founders Mentality.” Southwest’s original Leaders and Employees, most notably Colleen and our Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher, did not methodically prescribe our Culture or business acumen. It grew from battlefield experiences and human connections, which led to valuable lessons, which became the powerful stories that now make up the historical “building blocks” of the Company. Our sustaining themes of Servant Leadership, Fun-LUVing Attitude, and Warrior Spirit originated from these stories. And while times have changed, how we continue to tell and craft the Southwest story has not. It’s communicated through every experience, interaction, and conversation we have with one another and our Customers. 

The “plane and simple truth is,” you are always telling your story. Southwest Employees are always telling our Company’s story. It is less about something written and more about something experienced. The story builds credibility and engagement with how we treat others, how we handle conflict, how we go the extra mile, and even how we demonstrate why Customers should trust us with their business. Those are all pages in our ongoing story. So, what’s the key to inviting others into that moment with us? Consider these ideas:

  • Know your objective ~ What do you hope your story will accomplish? Inform? Inspire?
  • Honor your audience ~ Is your story relatable? Does it connect?
  • Trust your authenticity ~ Does your story reflect a “Founders Mentality”?

Whether at work or home, our lives are a collection of stories and the memories we leave behind. You are the author— “Gather moments while you may; collect the dreams you dream today.” Remember, a truly great story is one that others will repeat. What story will you write today?

In honor of one of the best storytellers I have ever known…Colleen.

Bill Tierney

Bill Tierney

VP Customer Experience & Digital (CXD)

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