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Wednesday
Sep252013

"This We" Can - Colleen Barrett - Former President and COO, Southwest Airlines

Deb Boelkes, my wonderful Co-Founder, recently returned from an amazing trip, that I refer to as: "Deb did Dallas," wherein she interviewed and videoed (stay tuned for those) some of the most heartfelt leaders that we have met so far in identifying, celebrating and learning the secret sauce of people and companies that "dare to care."  What we are discovering is that these people don't "dare to care,"  these people don't know any other way than caring.

Among them was Colleen Barrett who currently is President Emeritus and was formerly President and COO at Southwest Airlines and was a big influence in adding the heart and soul and fun there after her boss Herb Kelleher came to Southwest as CEO and realized the vision of a "fun airline" to work for and to fly.  Some of his beliefs include:

"A company is strong if it is bound by love rather than by fear. If the employees come first, then they're happy...  A motivated employee treats the customer well.  The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders.  It's not one of the enduring green mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works." 

At any rate, Deb sent me an email that she sent Colleen thanking her for her time that included:

"What an honor it was to have had so much time with you this afternoon to chat about Heartfelt Leadership. I so appreciate you making the time available for the video interview. I loved every minute of hearing your reflections and look forward to sharing some of the highlights with the world. You are a doll and a legend.

Thanks also for introducing me to Mr. Kelleher. After hearing your stories and seeing the two of you together, albeit briefly, it's no wonder why SWA became the best, most fun and most profitable airline in the business."  

And then Deb sent me Colleen's reply that included:

"The pleasure was all mine.  I make instant decisions (some would call that a strength; some would call it a weakness—I’m not so sure which it is, but, right or wrong, I can tell you that I rarely change my mind about my initial “read” of a person even if I end up knowing that person for years).   Upon seeing your warm smile and obvious overflowing positive energy and joyful personality when you entered my “vision zone,” I instantly decided that, within seconds,” we would be talking as though we had been friends forever and our “chat” simply validated that thought.  In any and all events, I know we are kindred spirits when it comes to matters of the heart and it will always be thus."

It was then that I had the following epiphany about what Heartfelt Leadership is about, what our Heartfelt Leadership linkedin group and what I think I am about.

First about me. 

At my core I am a "we" and not a "me."  What this means is that I don't want nor am I able to accomplish anything important exclusively on my own.  I want to do it with people where at the and of the day we can look at it and then look at each other and say, "Isn't it amazing, what we were able to do?"

All my life I have looked for partners that I could form a "we" with ("we" is different from "us" in that "we" actually do things and make things happen, whereas as "us" perceives the world as stuff happening for or to them and is passive... and often passive aggressive).

For about 30 years I was not discerning about who I would let in, believing that I shouldn't be judgmental, that everyone deserved the benefit of the doubt and finally because I was a psychotherpist and cut my "all about me" patients slack since they had mental and personality disorders for which they were seeing me.

I have since transitioned to only allowing people into my professional and personal life who I can form a "we" with. 

I even use this as filter in social gatherings to deal with my social anxiety.  When I am at such gatherings I look for the people who seem to be listening intently and with sincere interest to another person as opposed to people who are talking without making eye contact or just looking for who they can hit on to drive business or sell or impress.  I will watch these intent and interested listeners and think to myself, "Now that's someone who is not 'all about me,' and maybe has the potential to be 'more about we.'" 

I will then walk up to some of those people and say to them, "Hi, I'm Mark, and I couldn't help but notice something that I find remarkable about you.  Would it be okay if I shared it with you?"  This would not be something I would do with someone who was totally focused on selling, but someone who might be more interested in connecting and relating.  It's amazing where such a conversation can lead.

The reason I felt compelled to blog about the above observations and thoughts is that Colleen and Deb clearly created an "all about we" experience when they recently spoke to each other.  And Herb Kelleher and Colleen and other heartfelt leaders at Southwest Airlines have clearly created an "all about we" culture that included first of all employees, then delighted travelers and even "dyed in the wool" ROI driven investors.

Deb and I and the rest of you have much to learn from Herb, Colleen and Southwest who have created the blueprint for: "THIS WE can... and do... and did... and will."

P.S. Read Deb's personal story and you will know why she felt compelled to co-found Heartfelt Leadership and why I am so "over the moon" that she has had the graciousness to have me as her partner.  "THIS WE can... and will!"

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