Feb 28

I read a heart-warming article on Time.com about a Southwest Airlines pilot. He delayed a plane full of passengers by waiting at the gate for a late arriving passenger.

Planes that depart late reflect poorly on the airline’s reputation and how customers evaluate them. There were 100+ passengers sitting in the plane and he’s not in the cockpit. His flight crew, and everyone else who is dependent on him, are forced to answer a lot of tough questions from those inquiring passengers.

Why would he do this?

Why does he still have a job?

He’s done everything that I’m sure all of the company policies and operational manuals tell him not to do. Not only does this fine pilot have a job, his company fully stands behind him and endorses his decision.

The passenger he was waiting for was just a regular guy, a grandfather. He wasn’t a celebrity, personal friend of the pilot, or some high-ranking executive with Southwest Airlines. Just a guy. A man who received some of the most difficult news any person could ever have to deal with. He was flying to Denver because they were pulling his 3 year-old grandson off life support. There was nothing the doctors could do to save him from the brutal act of inhumanity committed by his daughter’s boyfriend.

The grandfather received the news from his wife while he was on a business trip in Los Angeles. She offered to call and make his travel arrangements for him as he was emotionally devastated. She called Southwest Airlines and the lady who helped her book the flight could do very little to hold back her tears throughout the call.

Arriving at the airport two hours before his flight was scheduled to depart, long security lines reduced the probability of him making his flight. No one in the security lines gave a damn while the grandfather pleaded his case about missing his flight. I have to be honest, I would have thought it was a scam and told him that I was sympathetic … but no. I’ve been scammed one to many times to “fall” for that line.

It’s so easy to get caught up in life and become part of the machine. No one would have faulted the pilot for doing his job by departing on time while the grandfather was stuck in the TSA lines.

But Southwest Airlines is a different kind of company. Those who have flown on Southwest know they are a different kind of airline. They aren’t the stuffy type of airline that we’re all accustomed to. If you haven’t seen this video, you should watch it. While this is a clearly a highlight, it’s pretty typical from Southwest and represents just how different they are from other airlines.

YouTube Preview Image

From a corporate perspective, there’s a huge distance between the lady who took the phone call from the grandfather’s wife and the pilot who actually flies the airplane. I doubt they know each other even though they work for the same company. But this is where we start to see what kind of company Southwest really is. We get to see it’s true colors. On the Southwest website they say:

Fly Southwest Airlines because you want to be treated like a person

Most companies say crap like this in their mission statement or some marketing bullshit posted on their website. Nobody in their employ believes in it and they probably mock it. Very few companies actually walk-the-walk.

Southwest Airlines is one of those few companies that walks-the-walk.

After the Southwest booking agent got off the phone, she called the LA gate agent and informed her of the situation. The gate agent told the pilot. The pilot made the decision to go against everything his company pays him to do because … it was the right thing to do. He wasn’t concerned with business metrics or his upcoming employee review. He was a compassionate man with his heart on his sleeve, not a cog in the wheel of a business machine.

When the grandfather arrived at the gate, the pilot was waiting for him.

“Are you Mark? We held the plane for you and we’re so sorry about the loss of your grandson. They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”

This story could move a robot to tears.

Let’s think about the corporate culture that must exist within Southwest Airlines. They clearly hire compassionate people, but the company also gives them the freedom to make the right decisions. Even if they are against what the rules say. They trust their employees to do what their mission statement says; Fly with us because you want to be treated like a person.

This philosophy applies to everyone at Southwest Airlines. From the lady who booked the flight and stopped taking calls while she contacted the gate agent in LA, to the pilot who refused to board his plane while he waited for a passenger going through a tragic time in his life.

Read the comments on this website. Most of them say things like, “If you didn’t mention the airline, I would have totally guessed that it was Southwest.”

Would people say this about your company? Would you?

The original Time.com article can be found here.

Written by Terry Blanchard \\ tags: , ,

May 03

Building and leading a successful team requires you, as the leader, to create and foster the right conditions. Just hiring the best talent and throwing a vision statement at them isn’t enough.

First, be crystal clear about the outcome that is expected from them. A lot of leaders fail by going too far with this and fill in all the details about how to achieve the desired outcome. This may be well intentioned and natural if the leader has a lot of previous experience in this particular area, but this has a few drastic side-effects. For one, you’re not providing an environment that is collaborative and open to improvement. Many people will remain silent when they have an idea to improve the plan because they have less experience than you, and you’re the boss. Allowing the team to devise their own plan for success may, and often will, open your eyes to newer and better ways of doing something. An effective leader knows when to use their experience and help guide the team, but also know when to recede into the background and let the team do what they do best.

Second, the team is no longer responsible for the outcome — you are. They’re just doing what you, the experienced leader, are telling them to. Who are they to question what you know is best. They will now fall into a role of “just tell me what to do.” If the project fails, it’s your fault. They were just following directions. Now you’ve lost credibility with your team as a leader and your team has lost credibility within the business.

Instead, be clear about the desired outcome. Paint the picture of the end result and let them decide how to get there. Let them own and possess the responsibility to achieve the outcome. You as the leader are there to help and provide guidance, course corrections, and focus. The team as a whole is working together to achieve the outcome. Everybody is responsible for the success, or failure, of the outcome.

Setting good direction for a team means being authoritative and insistent about desired outcomes, but being equally insistent about not specifying how the team should go about achieving those outcomes.

Another condition that I’ve seen have devastating effects on a team is failing to give your team enough ownership. I’ve seen managers and organizational leaders back off from taking on what they perceive as too much for their team. Their intentions are well-meaning, but it becomes a facade that is easy to hide behind each time it’s used. Teams are motivated when they are given clear and challenging problems that have a large impact. That’s also one of the key ingredients required for innovation. The well intentioned managers and leaders are doing more harm than good when they water down what the team is responsible for, typically because they are worried about how well the team will perform. So they assign the team a smaller, relatively inconsequential part of the overall task. These are catastrophic mistakes. Having vague or relatively unimportant chunks of the outcome actually compromises team performance and morale. They feel like their work isn’t as important and consequential.

Make sure that your teams have a clear picture about the what is expected from them, what the desired outcome looks like. They need to be able to picture what success and being “done” looks like so they can get there. Also ensure that the outcome they are working toward is important and has a consequential impact on the business or project.

Written by Terry Blanchard \\ tags: , , ,

Apr 23

About 2 weeks ago I started recieving email messages, Facebook links, and tweets about a singing sensation who recently performed on the UK television show Britain’s Got Talent. If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x90724

After watching the video I wondered about a few different feelings I had. Aside from her voice, which Piers Morgan describes as the “voice of an angel,” why was this such a viral, emotional, and powerful experience?

She didn’t “fit in” with a typical contestant. She’s not what you’d expect to see in a talent contest. We expected another William Hung performance that we could all laugh at. We expected failure just by her appearance. Watch the audience as they all lean forward and smile anxiously as she takes the stage. You know they’re all saying the same thing, “Ahh, man. This is gonna be freakin’ hilarious. Look at her!”

Everyone was ready to watch the train wreck.

All of that changed after the first note was sung by Susan Boyle. A whirlwind of emotions in a few short moments: guilt, shame, vindication, hope, and inspiration. We went from rooting against her, to cheering her on. She was given the right opportunity, the right stage, and the right audience to be fully appreciated. And she delivered — big time!

I’ve been a people manager for a long time. I’ve always been proud of the teams that I’ve put together and feel that my success in this area has always been to identify talents and strengths within each individual. Looking past what the resume or even the person says. I use this to build a complementary team so I have diversity and breadth. It allows each team member to learn from their peers and promotes growth for each person as they interact and work with each other. Each team member respects the others skills. I believe this is what distinguishes the great managers from the merely good ones.

Good managers help their employees succeed in whatever role they happen to be in. Great managers see the unique talents of each employee, and create a role that’s an outlet for those talents. Great managers remove the obstacles that prevent their employees from unleashing their talent. And they make sure each employee has the right opportunities, the right stage, the right audience, to be fully appreciated and successful.

Susan Boyle is a phenomenal person to keep in mind as you manage your employees. Nobody knew who she was until her proverbial stage was set. As a manager, have you set the stage for each of your team members to be successful? In front of the right audience?

When you do, prepare to watch a superstar in the making.

Written by Terry Blanchard \\ tags: , ,