Being a better leader. Is it beneath you? Part I


While seated next to Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly during a leadership meeting, management consultant Patrick Lencioni remembers how he marveled at “the remarkable and unorthodox activities that made the organization so healthy.”

By healthy, Lencioni said, he was referring to Southwest’s “long history of growth and economic success, not to mention fanatic customer loyalty.” Airlines are not known for their economic success and few, if any, enjoy the customer loyalty that Southwest enjoys.

In his latest book “The Advantage,” Lencioni writes that he leaned over and quietly asked Kelly, “Why in the world don’t your competitors do any of this?”

Kelly responded in a whisper to Lencioni, almost sadly, “You know, I honestly believe they think it is beneath them.”

If you have ever flown on Southwest Airlines you will see how airliners staffers engage customers. They joke and exchange small talk, they make sure passengers are comfortable and they are never afraid to be human.

Turnaround time is a key component to the success of Southwest Airlines. It is imperative that planes arrive and leave on time. This often requires the pilots to help the crew do things other airlines’ pilots would not be caught doing. I have witnessed pilots cleaning up trash, removing newspapers and magazines from seats and helping the food carts onto the plane.

Southwest Airlines is so successful because everyone believes in the airline’s mission: “Dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.”

Southwest Airlines accomplishes its mission because everyone from the CEO to the baggage handlers is willing to go the extra mile. Leadership runs throughout the organization, and it doesn’t matter if the person doing the leading is at the top of the organization chart or the bottom. There is nothing that is beneath a Southwest team member.

Learning how to lead or improve leadership skills tends to be beneath some people in today’s corporate, government and nonprofit worlds. Taking time to look at your own leadership skills is probably something you haven’t done in a while, if ever.

When I suggest that you take a look at your leadership skills, I am not concerned where you are in the hierarchy of your organization. You may be the president and CEO or you may be the person who started with your organization last month. No matter where you are in the organization, you can be a leader and you can improve your leadership skills.

Leaders are not always paid for their skills. I have coached my daughter’s soccer team for several years. In that organization, I am not the leader. I am one of many coaches who depend on the volunteer leadership of the soccer organization.

The soccer program runs very well, and each game goes off without a problem. That requires strong leadership and solid organizational skills. The people providing that leadership are not paid; they are volunteers and the program is run as well as any for-profit company.

If you have ever been a member of a volunteer organization that does not have strong leadership, then you know how easily an organization can get off track.

Poor leadership at work can be one of life’s most stressful and difficult challenges. So much of our time is spent working. If that work involves working with a leader who doesn’t motivate you and doesn’t provide direction, then you probably go home pretty miserable each day.

If you are the leader with the poor skills, is it beneath you to find new ways to lead? If you are a victim of poor leadership, is it beneath you to try to become a leader?

Unfortunately, we seem to have become accustomed to poor leadership and accept it. That is a shame.

What are you doing to become a better leader? Please comment below.



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