Successful Businesses Hire the Right People and Give Them the Freedom to Make the Right Decisions

I read a heart-warming article on 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.

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 article can be found here.

About the author

Terry Blanchard

I'm the Vice President of Engineering at Readdle, ex-Apple, design evangelist, drummer, and gadget junkie extraordinaire.

4 thoughts on “Successful Businesses Hire the Right People and Give Them the Freedom to Make the Right Decisions”

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