Observations on a Southwest Flight

On a flight departing 30 minutes late, one flight attendant asks for the drink coupons and checks to make sure they are valid.

The other flight attendant waves off the coupons offered to her with a playful, “Put that away.”

It’s the same airline, on the same flight, on the same day. Just two rows apart, in fact.

Is there a policy that guides these choices? Is it simply personality, one a “rule follower” and one a “free spirit”?

Do we raise an eyebrow at the inconsistency, the “unfair” treatment?

Do we celebrate Southwest’s culture of employee “ownership,” even when it’s inconsistently applied?

It’s both confusing and endlessly fascinating to observe an organizational culture this closely. An enterprise as service-oriented as Southwest – one who wants us to feel the “LUV” – only makes it a more dissected entity.

Maybe they think we don’t notice the inconsistency? Maybe they know that we do (How can you not when the “service distance” of a 737 is the equivalent of a customer walking around the Starbucks counter to stand next to the barista while ordering?) and don’t really care? And not so much a harsh “don’t care” as a subtle request that we just accept the predictable human messiness of it all.

I’m one drink coupon lighter tonight and still grateful that the aspirations of this particular organization keep me interested and aware.

I can’t think of another service organization that makes me feel that way.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Love is in the Air

IMG_5859Southwest Airlines wants me to doodle on my napkin. They invited me, along with 141 passengers, to express myself as I see fit. Because they “LUV” me, of course!

Why this consistent, persistent, transparent emphasis on love? Why do they choose the heart as both the visual and visionary centerpiece of their corporate ethos?

The idealist might say it’s because the customer is the heart of their business. Or that, because human beings – especially 142 of them sitting shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh in a flying canister – value nothing more than to be seen, heard and understood, it’s an obvious, human-centric decision.

The cynic might say that if you are only going to offer open seating, peanuts and a tepid cup of coffee you’d better offset it with something a bit warmer, sincere or otherwise.

To crudely borrow from Karl Marx, maybe at the core of Southwest’s operating plan is a belief that love, no matter how it’s offered, is the “opiate of the masses.”

On the first leg of this trip, I witnessed a Southwest flight attendant publicly recognize a colleague’s achievement of having been chosen as the “face of the company” on their WiFi login page. He was genuine about it. She was clearly appreciative.

The instances of flight attendant repartee and the ad-libbing of otherwise tedious FAA announcements, as grating as they can sometimes be, are evidence of a humanness at the center of the enterprise. There’s a recognition of the value of creating an environment that emphasizes a “we’re all in this together” vibe accompanied by a nudge to not take it all so seriously.

Isn’t that right at the heart of what it means to love and be loved? For my part I recognize that my most loving  or “in love” relationships are the ones that remind me of my basic humanness. In other words, they help me keep my feet on the ground while simultaneously equipping me to fly.

That’s something that only love can do. And it’s what Southwest exists to do; to safely take us from the ground in this place to the ground in that place, with a sojourn through the miracle of flight along the way.

I fly Southwest at least once a month these days. My experiential/anecdotal “data set” has me convinced that they mean it. And that they mean to stick with it.

Just like love in all its forms, they don’t get it right all the time. And just like love in our relationships, it has to start within. That is to say, I can’t “love my neighbor” until I love myself.

If Southwest keeps loving, they will keep flying. And I’m onboard with that.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

It’s four letters and it starts with “L”

I attended a wedding on Monday afternoon.

Monday afternoon is not a typical “wedding day.” Monday afternoon is the time when most of us are at work, the time when we have shaken off the weekend and placed our noses firmly, if not reluctantly back to the grindstone. But there we were, on a Monday afternoon, in a church, at a wedding.

And it was peaceful and intimate. It was sincere and lovely. In fact, it was the expression and experience of love itself.

In that church on Monday afternoon, feeling displaced by the difference between a “typical” Monday and this particular Monday I started to wonder why we work so hard to separate feelings and experiences that are more powerful when joined together.

Why do we work so hard to separate love and work? Our workplaces can and often do facilitate deep and extraordinary relationships between people gathered together in common cause. These are relationships of trust and dependence, of mutual respect and concern, of help and collaboration. We should be celebrating this for what it is (LOVE) rather than euphemistically calling it “teamwork” or “partnership” or, and it pains me to write it, “synergy.”

But that’s what we do because it’s “appropriate” and “conventional” and allows us to forego the hard work of expanding our definition of “love” beyond our present and limited understanding. (The Ancient Greek’s had six words for love – it’s a good place to start!)

And as I continued my reflection I realized that we have begun to wrestle with this question in contemporary terms. I remembered Tim Sander’s 2003 book, Love is the Killer App. I remembered Herb Kelleher, the visionary founder of Southwest Airlines saying, “A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear.” And I remembered this piece from Virgin.com, Does love have a place in business?

And I thought, there should be more Monday weddings! And Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday weddings as well. We need more reminders that a workplace – and a church – that is filled with love is vibrant, alive and full of possibility. And one that is not is just another building.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.