Foreword to "Lessons In Loyalty" by James Hunter
(Note: "Lessons in Loyalty" is a great little book about Servant Leadership & Southwest Airline's phenomenal success by Lorraine Grubbs-West)
As a secret Southwest Airlines admirer, I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to write the Foreword to this little gem of a book authored by Lorraine Grubbs-West. In it, Lorraine reflects upon her years of experience as an employee of Southwest Airlines, arguably the most successful and thriving airline in the United States, if not the world, today.
I have held Southwest Airlines in high regard (albeit from a distance) for many years. I often speak about this hugely successful airline in my leadership seminars and have included anecdotes about them in my writings.
Many books have been written about Southwest Airlines and its phenomenal achievements and successes. What is distinctive about this book is that the author gives us a unique perspective of what makes Southwest so successful from the inside. You are going to be treated to a true “insiders view” as the author recounts her 15 years working for Southwest, serving in senior executive roles including positions in leadership development, employment and marketing.
This Portuguese translation is being released in Brazil. Having traveled to Brazil six times over the past year conducting book tours and seminars, I know first-hand that most of the readers will know little or nothing about Southwest Airlines. Let me briefly acquaint you with a few facts along with some of the successes of this marvelous organization.
The Facts: Southwest Airlines began passenger service in June, 1971 and is currently the largest domestic originating passenger carrier in the United States. The airline schedules over 3,100 daily flights and carried nearly 90 million passengers in 2005. Southwest employs 32,000 employees and has annual revenues of roughly $8 billion (US).
The Successes: In 2005, Southwest Airlines realized its 33rd successive annual profit. This includes 60 consecutive profitable quarters, and this past July Southwest declared its 120th consecutive quarterly dividend to its shareholders. Southwest has had the fewest customer complaints for 18 years running and has been ranked as the #2 Most Admired Company in America by Fortune magazine. And consider this: A $10,000 investment in Southwest Airlines in 1972 would be worth more than $10 million today!
These feats are even more remarkable when you consider that the years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have been disastrous for the United States airline industry where industry-wide losses have exceeded $40 billion. Many of the once great airlines in the United States have filed bankruptcy in recent years including United, U.S. Airways, Delta and Northwest while American Airlines just narrowly avoided filing bankruptcy three years ago.
And that’s not all. Southwest is one of the premier employers in the United States and has been ranked in the Top Five Best Companies to Work for in America by Fortune magazine. With annual turnover of less than 10%, Southwest received over 260,000 employment resumes in 2005 while hiring only 1% of that number (2,766).
Most business-savvy folks will tell you that the airline industry is one of most difficult in which to build a competitive and successful business. Gaining an advantage over your competitors is tricky as many of operating costs including equipment, fuel, landing and gate fees, etc. are relatively fixed. In terms of labor costs, the industry is a mature one and heavily organized - indeed 87% of Southwest employees are unionized. Technology and new business models can be readily copied. In fact, many have tried to duplicate Southwest’s business model yet have been unable to match Southwest’s success.
How then does one explain Southwest’s unparalleled success?
When I spoke with the author recently in preparation for writing this Foreword, I asked her, “What is the main point of your book?” She quickly replied, “Take care of your people and they will take care of you.”
At hearing this, many might be tempted to say, “Is that it? I mean, doesn’t everyone know that? Isn’t that just common sense?”
Common sense, yes. Commonly executed? Unfortunately, no.
In delivering her message of “taking care of your people,” the author in her introduction asks, “How do they do that?” and then expounds upon nine “loyalty lessons” with accompanying principles to answer that very question.
The author teaches us excellent lessons about correctly hiring and orienting new employees; continuous improvement and training; appreciating, recognizing and valuing people; having fun; eliminating waste and doing “more with less”; being there for people during the tough times; doing the right thing and living by the Golden Rule; and building and nurturing extended relationships.
Simply put, the author articulates the fundamentals of “taking care of your people” and conveys in a pragmatic way the “how to’s” of winning the hearts and minds of people. Which is, of course, what great leadership is all about.
Any mediocre organization or supervisor can “manage” people from the “neck down” by prodding, coercing or bribing people to expend minimal energy through their hands, legs and backs while the job market decides the price they will have to pay for it.
Great leaders and excellent organizations have learned the secret of getting their people from the “neck up”, which is capturing the hearts, minds, spirits, creativity, commitment and excellence of their people. In short, getting their people to “own it.”
When Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962, one of his favorite sayings was, “If you want to ruin your business, just treat your employees bad because they will take it out on your customer.”
This simple truth, neglected by the vast majority of organizations, is practiced daily at Southwest Airlines. “People are our greatest asset” is not merely a punch line at Southwest, they really believe it and live it there. People have always been the foundation of Southwest Airlines and the secret to its competitive advantage.
In fact, Southwest’s advertising tag line for years was "The airline that love built" and if you would like to check their stock value on the New York Stock Exchange, their ticker symbol is “LUV.” As mentioned earlier, many have tried to copy Southwest’s business model but have not been successful in duplicating their culture.
The irony is that none of this is rocket science. In the end, leadership and building a great organization is simply about “doing the right thing” and following the Golden Rule, which the author discusses in “Lesson 8.”
It is the right thing to do to treat people as you yourself would want to be treated including treating others with respect, listening well, recognizing, appreciating, valuing, holding people accountable, and being honest. As you read the author’s nine lessons you will be struck by how simple each lesson is. The lessons are simply about “doing the right thing” with people.
American leadership guru Warren Bennis has summed up his body of work by saying “leadership is character in action.” This is true because leadership is “doing the right thing” with and for your people. Character is moral maturity and “doing the right thing” with and for your people. Hence, effective leadership is character in action.
Now virtually everyone will agree with this statement intellectually but few will actually execute this truth on a daily basis. What separates Southwest from the rest of the field is that they are truly committed to their people and truly committed to doing the right thing consistently. So much so that it has become ingrained right into their cultural DNA.
The author states, “You don’t have to wait on your CEO to implement these lessons. You can begin right now – wherever you are.” I would encourage you to give special attention to this advice.
After you have read this little book of wisdom, be sure that you take the first steps by actually putting something into action. This can be done in your home, at work, church, athletic field – indeed the lessons and principles can be practiced wherever two or more people are gather together for a purpose.
Please remember that leadership is not about management. I have met scores of excellent managers who were horrible leaders. Leadership is not what you do, rather the person that you are. Leadership is influence. Leadership is influencing others for good, rousing others to action, and inspiring them to become the best they can be as they work together toward common goals. By that definition, we are all leaders. The only question is, will the people on your team (family, work, other organization) be glad you were there?
The world is changing rapidly in virtually every area imaginable. In this new millennium, truly great organizations are no longer asking, “Who is the leader?” Rather, the appropriate question is, “Are you effective in your leadership (influence)?” We all leave our mark. We all influence others every day.
The secret of building a world-class organization is creating a group of all leaders where everyone is taking personal responsibility for the success of the team. “This is my customer, my team, my organization, my responsibility.” Again, getting people to “own it.”
Whoever said a great marriage is 50/50 probably was not married for very long. A great marriage is 100/100 with the full commitment of the players.
The same is true in any organization. We are all leaders. The only difference is that we have different responsibilities within the organization and the job market pays those responsibilities differently.
A large part of the genius of Southwest Airlines is that by treating people with respect and dignity, they free their people up to grow and become better individual leaders. Individual leaders who positively influence their customers. Individual leaders who influence and inspire their teammates to raise their game and become the best they can be for themselves and for their organization.
Recently while boarding a Southwest plane, I was greeted by a young flight attendant, who I am sure had no people reporting to her. In a typical organization, that would place her very low on the hierarchal food chain. Yet this young woman looked me in the eye as I boarded and exclaimed, “Welcome to my airplane. You’re going to have a different experience today.” And she was correct.
Again, please do not make the mistake of reading this very helpful book without applying the lessons through personal applications. With persistence and steadfast commitment toward “doing the right thing”, you will build your character and thereby your leadership skills. And in doing so, you will enhance any organization you are a part of.
The best part is that in time you will discover that you no longer have to try to be a good leader; you have become a good leader. You will not have to try to be a good team member; you will have become a good team member.
And the people around you will be glad that you are there.
Blessings on your journey.
James C. Hunter