Business in Focus: Southwest Airlines

October 6, 2015 | Business In Focus

A closer look at companies executing leadership excellence

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Southwest_Airlines_4c-2009Trust is a hot topic today. In our fast-paced business world, “speed is everything,” says Stephen M.R. Covey, “and nothing impacts speed more than trust.”

Consider this example about the legendary culture of trust at Southwest Airlines. In 1996, leadership expert Ken Blanchard had just published a book with former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula called Everyone’s A Coach. Ken was at the San Diego airport to check-in for a flight to the east coast. When he got to the Southwest ticket counter, he realized that he’d forgotten to bring his ID. He didn’t have time to get it and he didn’t want to miss his flight. So he got an idea.

He went to the bookstore in the terminal and bought a copy of Everyone’s A Coach. On the front cover in big red letters were the authors’ names and a smiling portrait of Ken and Don side-by-side. Ken took the book to the Southwest check-in counter. When asked for his ID, he sheepishly held up the book and said, “I forgot my ID today, but I have this book that I just bought from the store here in the terminal. It has my name and my picture on the cover.”

The agent took the book and looked at the cover and looked at Ken. Looked at the book and looked at Ken. Then he looked at his fellow Southwest agent and said, “Hey! This guy knows Don Shulah!” Ken got on the plane that day by an agent who worked for a company with a high trust culture.

In our post-9/11 era, Ken’s idea would not work. But experiences like his and many more loyal Southwest passengers show why their four decade-long history of achieving annual profits is unmatched in the airline industry.

Kudos Southwest!

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