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What Is Leadership? An Interview with Colleen Barrett

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Ken Blanchard interviews Colleen Barrett, the President Emerita and Corporate Secretary of Southwest Airlines, about leading with love (or LUV).

What Is Leadership?

Ken: Colleen, it's a real honor to talk with someone who leads with love. Would you mind if I called you "The Love Manager"?

Colleen: Actually, Ken, I would mind, even if you spelled it LUV.

K: LUV?

C: LUV is our symbol on the New York Stock Exchange. We first started flying out of Love Field in Dallas, and our first advertising slogan in 1971 was "Southwest Airlines, the Someone Else Up There Who LUVs You." We also had a heart on our first signature line and letterhead. And today, forty years later, we still have hearts on our aircraft. So, frankly, if you have a need to put a label on what I do, I would prefer that you call me a LUVing Leader.

K: What do you have against the word manager?

C: Nothing, really. But as someone said years ago, "You can't manage a horse to water." So, at Southwest Airlines, although we have Manager titles, we prefer to use the word Leader because we want all our People to realize they have the potential to be a Leader; they can make a positive difference in anyone's work and life, regardless of whether they are in a management position. So we try to hire Leaders, no matter what role we want them to fill.

Talking about the roles People fill, in our internal Company communications, we highlight People's different roles by capitalizing their designation as well as their title. So anyone reading this conversation will notice that, when we refer to Southwest Airlines, not only are Pilot and Mechanic capitalized, but also words such as People, Employee, Leader, Customer, and Company. This is part of what our People call "Colleen's Bible."

K: I'm glad you said part of "Colleen's Bible," because I also know that some words that are normally two words or hyphenated words, such as bottom line, team player, or check-in, appear as one word in your "Bible." Because that might drive our non-Southwest readers crazy, we're not going to do that.

C: You mean I don't always get my own way?

K: No, because this is a coauthored work, and we don't want to send our editors into a tizzy.

C: Oh, all right. Geez Louise.

K: Colleen, I hope that everyone eavesdropping on our conversation will get the point you were making before we were interrupted with "Bible" talk: Everyone has the potential to be a leader and have a positive influence on people they meet. The reason I reiterate this point is that when I ask groups of managers around the country, "How many of you think you are a leader?" fewer than a third of them raise their hands.

C: Do you know why? Because somehow they think leadership is all about having a position or a title; therefore, leadership is something that is limited to only a few people—often top managers such as CEOs or presidents. I think Leadership is a way of life. All of us can be Leaders, both at work and in our homes and communities.

K: So we agree, then, leadership is an influence process.

  • Anytime You Seek To Influence The Thinking, Behavior, Or Development Of People In Their Personal Or Professional Lives, You Are Taking On The Role Of A Leader

C: That statement makes me happy, because if you continued to call me The Love Manager, we wouldn't have had a very good conversation. I consider myself a Leader, not a manager.

K: When people have such strong feelings about leadership, I'm always interested in where those feelings came from. I love to ask people, "Who had the greatest impact on your life and who you are as a leader?" Hardly anyone ever mentions a manager or supervisor at work. They talk about their mother or father, a grandfather or uncle, or even their spouse or a friend.

C: Bingo. When I think about who influenced my life the most as a Leader, I think of my Mother. She, more than anyone, taught me how to lead with love.

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