Southwest Airlines and the worst driver’s licence photo

Southwest Airlines turns Lemons Into Lemonade

Why would Southwest Airlines be interested in finding the worst driver’s licence photo?

Well, thanks today to Joe Pine (author of the Experience Economy and who I have written of my reverence for here) for sharing this story on Twitter recently.

In short, a Southwest Airlines flight was delayed several hours and the gate agent decided to have fun, take the time with the passengers and play games, including one to see who had the worst driver’s licence photo.

What does this teach us about leadership and culture?

Turning lemons into lemonade

The article on this SouthWest airlines story was on CNN. One snippet:

The delay lasted about three hours, but when the flight took off, passengers clapped and cheered for the gate agents.

What a way to change the experience of those passengers

Southwest Airlines’ secret ingredient

What is the secret ingredient that creates stories like this again and again for SouthWest?

It is simple, they are an organisation that lives the new triple bottom line, as I wrote about after their founder died earlier this year in: “Beautiful Leadership – Purpose and Herb Kelleher“, noting something Herb said:

“When I started out, business school professors liked to pose a conundrum: Which do you put first, your employees, your customers, or your shareholders? As if that were an unanswerable question. My answer was very easy: You put your employees first. If you truly treat your employees that way, they will treat your customers well, your customers will come back, and that’s what makes your shareholders happy.”

People first, Customers Second, Shareholders Third.

The Southwest Culture has six core values, two of which are:

  • Fun-LUVing Attitude
  • Wow Our Customers

Clearly the gate agent in this story lived those values!

Profit as an outcome, not a motive

Yes, the culture of Southwest is key and permeates everything they do.

I’d also like to finish here by focussing on how Profit is an outcome of them living the new triple bottom line of Purpose, People and Planet, rather than the motive for their business.

That article I wrote earlier this year walks through how Southwest truly live the new triple bottom line at each level.

They are motivated by Purpose, People, Planet, Profit then becomes a natural outcome. They make money (see the article, they always have, more than any other airline in history!), but they make money only because they always stay focussed on who they are and why that matters.

As a leader, learn from Southwest and so many other businesses around the world that put the new triple bottom line at the heart of who they are and what they do.

I will keep shining a light on real businesses and their impact through my writing, if you would like to do more yourself through your own business, let’s talk.

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Also published on Medium.