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

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4 22 TL

Leadership: Tough Love

This year I have the pleasure of celebrating 30 years at our LUV Airline. I’ve grown from a Coordinator to an Executive Vice President. I know this happened because of the guidance, support and wisdom of the heartfelt Leaders I’ve had over the years. They invested their time, energy and encouragement, and I believe each of us has the moral responsibility to continue this legacy.

Southwest’s Values are those of care, compassion and grace, but also of direct feedback, honesty and sometimes tough conversations. It shapes the future generation of our Company, and it shaped me! Southwest President Emeritus, Colleen Barrett, taught me tough love and to be comfortable with my sharp edges. That meant how to be assertive, give honest feedback and expect more of myself. In response to being called “emotional,” Colleen once said, “I’m not emotional, I’m passionate.” That passion is one of the many things I admire about Colleen and it came across in all of her work. She corrected me more than once with a firm remark and a red pen all over my written drafts and only to remind me that this was the job I wanted. She taught me how to challenge myself and believe that I was good enough to do more, and for that I am truly grateful. Without her or her tough love, grit and determination, Southwest Airlines wouldn’t be the Company it is today.

Where Colleen taught me to be OK with my sharp edges, my next Leader, Ginger Hardage, showed me how to extend grace. With her, it wasn’t about changing myself, but about learning that there are many ways to achieve what you want, and you can get your message across without using an iron fist. Ginger’s Leadership quality to change the perspective, broaden the understanding and do so with positive intent is a quality any Leader should seek to embrace.

Our loving Culture is iconic — and it’s one that has always included tough love. We didn’t become the Airline we are today by taking the easy route. We know that saying “no,” giving feedback, and even offering a different perspective comes from a place of caring and wanting to grow our Employees. As you think about the future growth of your organization, remember that passion, grace and tough love can all coexist!


Linda Rutherford

Linda Rutherford

Executive Vice President People & Communications

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