It was the cover on the Southwest Airlines flight magazine that got me. Just a photo of a man with a paper airplane, a blank white background.
The man in the photo? Former Southwest Airlines Chairman, President and CEO Herb Kelleher. He passed away in January, at the age of 87. Beloved by his employees, Kelleher was an innovator in creating a culture within a company. Southwest Airlines is known for its can-do spirit, where employees often go the extra mile to serve customers.
Southwest is also known as the “fun” airline, if this is possible today. One never knows when a flight attendant will toss in jokes during the pre-flight safety talk (such as, “There is no tampering with the webcams in the lavatory”) or when one might pop out of an overhead bin to surprise an unsuspecting passenger.
Matt Crossman’s cover story doesn’t mention whether Kelleher was a man of faith, but he does indicate Kelleher employed principles Jesus taught. In fact, Colleen Barrett, who served as Kelleher’s right hand, once told him, “You are the best servant-leader I have ever met.”
Kelleher’s response, however, is telling.
“What the hell is that?” Kelleher asked.
“He looked at me like I had three heads,” Barrett said.
Kelleher may not have understood Christian jargon, but the pregnancy help community can learn much from the culture behind an airline with an unheard-of 46 consecutive years of profits. How do they do it? And how can we do the same as we seek the “profit” of winning the largest “market share” of those thinking their only solution is to end a pregnancy?
Herb gives us the pathway to our success—though he probably never realized it:
1. Our Own People Come First
“Your People come first, and if you treat them right, they’ll treat the customers right.” – Herb Kelleher
Southwest is an anomaly. While most companies say, “The customer comes first,” Southwest says the employee comes first. It works, because happy employees treat customers well.
Therefore, let’s give our people all they need to succeed. Let’s pay our people as well as we possibly can, so no one—ever—will have to leave us for financial reasons. Let’s celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, let’s throw parties for our people, and let’s give them freedom to make key decisions as they serve those we see.
Shame on us if we excuse low pay and little or no benefits with, “Well, this is a ministry.” Let’s do everything we can to change this thinking so the best flock to us. Southwest employees aren’t overpaid, but they are valued. It shows. We can do this, even when funding is tight.
2. Remember the Difference
“Southwest’s essential difference is not machines and ‘things.’ Our essential difference is minds, hearts, spirits and souls.” – Herb Kelleher
Our hearts define our work. We love. We listen. We seek ways to help young women and men soar above a crisis.
Like the industry which opposes us, our medical clinics have ultrasound machines and other technology. But that’s not the difference. The difference is who we are and how we treat those we see. We must always remember this.
“Think small and act small, and we’ll get bigger. Think big and act big, and we’ll get smaller.” – Herb Kelleher
Kelleher, it is said, never passed an employee without talking. He knew names, he knew backstories. Many stories about Kelleher begin with, “He had no reason to be nice to me, but...”
This is who we are in the life-affirming community. Many come to us in the throes of fear, anxiety and emotional pain. They feel as if there is no reason for someone to be nice to them. But we are.
We must keep “thinking small,” thinking of the individual before we think about branding and “big” goals. Should we dream big? Certainly. But only as we focus on being small enough to serve each person who needs us with love and respect.
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I never met Herb Kelleher. But I meet his legacy almost weekly, whenever I hop on a plane.
We too, create legacies whenever we walk into our ministries. May our legacy be one of loving our own people (and helping them love others), remembering how we are different...and thinking small.
If we do these three well, big things are ahead.
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