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  • Bob Burg

“You've basically revolutionized the way we are doing business. . . Your teaching style is very, very effective.”

~ Thomas J. Bartosic, SVP, Career Sales, G.E. Financial Assurance

Nothing “Nuts!” Regarding Southwest’s Success

June 11th, 2012 by Bob Burg

Colleen BarrettIf you attended The Go-Giver Retreat held this past April in West Palm Beach, Florida you listened with awe as Southwest Airlines’ President Emeritus, Colleen Barrett (presented moments earlier with the 3rd Annual Go-Giver Lifetime Achievement Award) delighted the audience with her take on the principles that can make any person or company hugely successful.

An added bonus was having Southwest’s Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Herb Kelleher there, too.

Both Colleen and Herb made themselves totally available and accessible to everyone. They were two of the kindest people I’ve ever personally met, and as authentic as can be.

Stories about Herb and Colleen, as well as the extraordinary customer service provided by their team are legendary. Just recently I again witnessed one of their gate agents going above and beyond to help a customer in a way that is simply not done on other airlines. At least not consistently, as a natural way of being.

Two stories I love can both be found in the classic, Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success, written by Kevin & Jackie Freiberg and published in 1996.

I think the reason I so enjoy these stories is because they both run so contrary to what the majority of people think is necessary to succeed in business.

The first has to do with their pilots. In so many companies there is such an “arms length” relationship between company leadership and employees. Here’s a brief passage, from the above-mentioned book, that illustrates the Southwest difference:

Southwest pilots see the cockpit as their offices. And out of these offices, they are running a business in which hundreds of daily decisions affect the health and well-being of the company, as well as their profit-sharing. Captain Yeaton says, “This is the first job I’ve had where the company actually encourages the pilot to get involved, to think. We get periodicals and memos on fuel burn and conservation all the time.

“I was at {another airline} before this, and fuel burn was irrelevant to us. It should have been a factor, but it wasn’t, because the relationship between management and pilots wasn’t very good. There were a lot of opportunities to save money over there, but it didn’t happen because people didn’t care.”

This is one of many examples that illustrates how the genuine and authentic caring of the leadership for their team members also helps Southwest be the uber-profitable company it is year after year after year, and in an industry notorious for losing money.

Next post, we’ll look at the second story; an example of character — the type that earns the respect and trust of those one leads, and greatly increases the profitability of the company.

17 Responses to “Nothing “Nuts!” Regarding Southwest’s Success”
  1. Bruno Coelho said at 8:55 am on

    Starting by the stock symbol (LUV) to the stories just like you shared, Southwest Airlines is a company that not only says that it all starts by Loving your costumers and employees… they LIVE that principle.

    People look what they have to DO to be successful. However, what you need to DO is a result of what you ARE. When what you need to BE isn’t aligned with what you are, your actions will reveal your true self in times of great adversity or stress. Then all of a sudden you’ll forget that the reason your business exist is to serve your costumers and empower your employees to deliver an awesome experience to them.

    I believe that great leaders and followers of greatness. So, a great way to become a better leader is to surround yourself with people like Colleen Barrett, Herb Kelleher and, of course, Bob Burg. They will show you, by their actions and words, not only what to do but what to BE!

    The great thing about the Internet and social networks is that you have the opportunity to decide who you want to surround yourself with.

    It’s your choice.

    Start now by following @BobBurg and by registering to his mailing list. It’s easily one of the best decisions you’ll make today!

  2. Bob Burg said at 11:20 am on

    Bruno, thank you for your always very kind and insightful comments! And, of course, thank you for mentioning me in the same sentence as two of my heroes, Herb and Colleen!

  3. Linda Ryan said at 1:01 pm on

    Such a thrill to have heard Coleen speak. She had me at “Hello!” and kept me engrossed until her final word. Such a joyful spirit and energy about her and I thank you for introducing me to such a unique and engaging speaker. Reading this post brought back some wonderful memories :-)

  4. Bob Burg said at 5:35 pm on

    Linda: Yes, she was amazing, wasn’t she? I could have listened to her all day, and I wouldn’t have felt the need to stop listening at the end of that day. :-)

  5. Jean Kuhn said at 8:48 pm on

    Bob,

    Glad to know there is more coming. I too enjoyed Colleen. She was a hoot. I really like SWA. Hubby likes UAL. When we travel together it’s always SWA. Because, their customer service is great, and they make it easy to do business with them.

  6. Bob Burg said at 8:51 pm on

    Thank you, Jean. I could write endless posts about Southwest, but they’d mainly be repetitive in terms of how great the leadership is to their team members and how great the team members are to their customers. :-)

  7. Doug Wagner said at 10:24 pm on

    Such an amazing speaker and such a great story. The fascinating part is how they tie caring back to the basics of business and in return excel at business as well.

  8. Bob Burg said at 11:02 pm on

    Doug: Exactly, my friend. Great interpretation!

  9. Bindhurani said at 12:06 pm on

    I am not a great business woman to comment on this blog. I thought, I should say that I love the SWA pilots caring about the company and customers. Nice to know about the great leader behind it.
    As a struggling crafter, I am trying to apply the principles of giving in my life.
    I will tell you one thing, giving, anything, to anybody, without expecting anything in return makes the giver feels good.

  10. Bob Burg said at 12:15 pm on

    Hello Bindhurani: If you’re learning from people like Herb and Colleen then you are on your way to being a great business woman. I always appreciate you commenting.

    In terms of what you said about giving “without expecting anything in return” – this is something I often hear and I believe I know what people mean; they mean without an “emotional attachment.” However, I think you should indeed “expect” great things in return. If you are serving your customers by providing awesome value, I think you should expect lots of great things to happen as a result. Positive expectation is good…so long as you are not “attached” to the result. Just a thought.

  11. Bindhurani said at 12:49 pm on

    thanks for the reply Mr.Burg.
    What I gave was a glass of lemonade to a maintenance worker, who came to perform routine maintenance to the air conditioner at the condo I live. Should I expect some kind of return for such a thing, while not being attached to the result?

  12. Bob Burg said at 1:22 pm on

    LOL Hi Bindhurani (and please call me Bob). No, I was talking more in the business sense. And, I didn’t even mean you should “expect” something from someone as a direct result of providing value to them. I meant more that – as you constantly and consistently provide value to others, you should indeed expect (without attachment) that good things will happen. Not for some far out, mystical or magical reason, but because you are planting and cultivating so much goodwill that you are creating a benevolent context for your success, and for you to receive much.

    I just have sort of a personal challenge with the term “giving without expectation” because it seems to be expecting that there is no “effect” to the “cause” which is giving value. That’s why I like to personally say, “without attachment” as opposed to “without expectation.” In terms of charity and/or every day kindness, of course, you are absolutely correct; we give without any expectation that there must be a direct result. :-)

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

  13. Hello Bob,

    I agree that giving brings good, yet we do better not expecting a result, and the term without attachment fits PERFECTLY!

    Placing value on the “VALUE”….

    Everything then seems to FALL in place!

    Thanks to sites like yours we are reminded of what life is all about and how to excell in business!

    Caterina

  14. Bob Burg said at 8:32 am on

    Mary Catherine: Thank you, my friend. Well said! I’m not sure I expressed what I meant in a clear and sufficient way. When I say “expect good things” I mean, “why not expect good things to happen?” Positive expectancy (without attachment) is a great way to go about life. That doesn’t mean that you give “in order to…anything”. You give value to others (whether in business or personally) because it is who you are, and because it’s who you are, it’s what you do. Still, you know that as you provide value, good things are going to happen. And, yes, they will happen – not because of some mysterious and magical reason, but – because you have planted the seeds creating that environment for success. And, again, here we are talking in the business sense. I say, “expect great things to happen.” (Should we expect nothing to happen or bad things to happen?) :-) However…don’t be attached to them “having” to happen. This mindset can take work, but it’s well worth it.

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