When hosting visitors at Southwest, they often remark that People smile at them in the halls. I’m always surprised that it’s something that stands out. After 22 years at Southwest, it isn’t something I think twice about. The Golden Rule is the standard for how Southwest Airlines Employees treat one another, and it’s been that way since day one. And as a Company, we’ve always endeavored to put People first.
When asked to write about cultivating kindness in the workplace, it seemed like an easy assignment. Be considerate. Be a good listener. Be helpful. Lean into the attributes that contribute to being a kind person. Right? The short answer is yes, of course. We must bring our “best selves” into the workplace.
Did you know? Some 33 years ago, we changed one of our department names to align with our Values. We announced it in this excerpt from a 1990 edition of “LUVLines” (an internal Employee news publication we still produce!). “In keeping with the People-oriented Culture that we, at Southwest, are famous for (or in some cases infamous for), our Personnel Department shall from now this day forward be known as the ‘People Department.’”
Small steps like this are woven into Southwest’s history and are part of the framework for continually nurturing a kind and caring Culture. However—and this is a big however—behind those efforts is a lot of hard work. As I began thinking about my journey as a Southwest Employee and Leader, I realized much of what I’ve learned about creating an environment where kindness can flourish has come from navigating diverse experiences and challenges. Recognizing and appreciating differences among peers; demonstrating consistent, trustworthy Leadership; thoughtfully giving and receiving constructive critique; embracing humility; meaningfully addressing conflict—these are just a few of the stepping stones on the path to genuinely cultivating a kind place to work.
To cultivate kindness, you must plant it first. That begins with the hiring process. Select candidates with the skills and experience for a position but also demonstrate the intangible characteristics that align with an organization’s values. Members of our Talent Acquisition Team are involved in at least one part of the interview process to ensure we’re selecting those to carry on the Values we’ve worked so hard to build. In that same way, kindness only grows under the intentional care of engaged, People-centric Leaders. How you promote and develop those who lead your organization is vitally important.
Finally, you must choose how and who you want to be. I encourage you to find joy in what you do and seek goodness in others daily. Pursue the positive. Laugh. As a Leader, temper heavy moments with light. Kindness rarely works as a mandate. Whether in easy or hard times, how we treat others is ultimately an individual decision. I find a funny meme at just the right time or a handwritten note to make sure someone knows I’m thinking of them can be simple acts of kindness that make a big impact. Be the difference you wish to see.