Culture is a term we use often at Southwest. Specifically, having a People-centric Culture helps define who we are as a Company and sets an expectation of how Leaders are to support, guide, and develop the Employees they lead. But it doesn’t just happen because we say it. We have to nurture it. As we’ve grown, we’ve had to consistently ask, “Are we still living out our Culture?” “What does it mean to our now 69,000+ Employees—what are their expectations?”
As I ponder my 40-year Southwest career, I think about how I learned to be a better Servant Leader for my Team. One of those ways, seriously, was by asking. Note: If you choose to take that same approach, be prepared for honest responses! All kidding aside, nurturing our work environment—our Culture—takes energy, humility, practice, and patience.
A cookie-cutter approach to our People will not be successful. We must be able to listen and tap into the strength of others’ ideas and thoughts. Our Culture is based on guiding Employees on the behaviors, expectations, and Company goals that are important for our success. It’s a living, adaptive process. For example, I often feel the most accomplished when I attend a meeting and see Cohearts who’ve crossed my path. I reflect on those memories and mentally revisit the interaction to see how I’ve grown as I’ve gained Leadership experience. What could I have done better? What could—or should—I tweak going forward?
Nurturing Culture as a Leader also requires us to incorporate our own experience as a Southwest Airlines Employee. We must create an environment where our Coworkers feel appreciated and respected. Nurturing is collaborative. I take the approach that everyone has something to offer. Even if it’s not applicable at that moment, I mentally store the conversation or the contribution and cover it when the time is right.
Respect and inclusiveness will trickle through an organization if it’s modeled appropriately and consistently. But this starts with leaders who have discipline, commitment and, importantly, the desire to do so.
I’m very fortunate to have had Colleen Barrett (namesake of the CCB Institute!) as a mentor and role model. She’d be the first to say that leading with LUV is our “secret sauce,” even when it’s tough LUV. She taught me valuable lessons on embracing differences from contributing Team members and addressing any issues openly. She also helped me understand the art of recognizing the placement of individual strengths and weaknesses within a Team to build a successful Culture. Of course, it helps when a strong Culture is also your cause.