Saying farewell to one heartfelt, WOW Factor Workplace kind of guy
I cannot begin to express how saddened I was to learn last month about the passing of Herb Kelleher, Founder, Chairman Emeritus and former CEO of Southwest Airlines. Mr. Kelleher died on January 3, 2019 at the age of 87.
Not only was Herb Kelleher a hard-working, self-made man, he was a truly fine gentleman, a role model heartfelt leader who set the gold standard for customer service in the airline industry by institutionalizing The Golden Rule (i.e. do unto others as you would have them do unto you). With decades of consistent profitability, Southwest Airlines has long been one of the world’s most admired companies. Fortune magazine called him perhaps the Best CEO in America.
I will never forget meeting Mr. Kelleher, who was still working in his office as Chairman Emeritus at Southwest Airlines’ headquarters, adjacent to Dallas Love Field Airport, even though it had been over a half dozen years since he had stepped down from the role of Chairman. I had flown to Dallas to interview Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus, who was also still working in her office at Southwest, five years after stepping down as President and Corporate Secretary of Southwest.
After spending nearly two hours interviewing Colleen in her office, she turned to me with that big, heartfelt smile of hers and said, “would you like to meet Herb?”
I was thrilled at the opportunity to meet Mr. Kelleher, especially since Colleen had just finished telling me so much about their decades of working together, even before the founding of Southwest when he had his own law firm and she was his secretary. It was then that I learned she and Mr. Kelleher had offices that directly connected by what I call “a back door”.
At the time, Mr. Kelleher was working in his office, writing his memoirs. Collen Barrett and her Executive Assistant, Vickie Shuler, were still his indispensable right hand staff. They were the ones who knew exactly where to find whatever information he might need, in all the rows of metal file cabinets just outside their adjacent offices. The three of them clearly appeared to be like family members who not only loved and respected each other, they loved and respected all fifty thousand Southwest employees and anyone else who happened to come by to visit, like me.
Mr. Kelleher was sitting at his desk, working busily away when Colleen walked me in to his office and announced my arrival. He immediately stood up, with a huge welcoming smile on his face, walked toward me with open arms, and gave me a big, warm, fatherly hug. You would have thought I was his long lost daughter. It was immediately obvious why the company he founded had a heart-shaped logo and the stock symbol “LUV”. Love and heart, it seemed to me, were the essence of each of their beings. What a fantastically unforgettable experience that day was.
So how about this as our Mentoring Moment: Begin with the end in mind (Habit 2 of Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Think about the long-lasting impression you wish to impart on others. How would you like people to remember you?
Think of the various times you have met someone new. Do you believe your initial (or last) meeting left them with a feeling of warm affection when they think of you now? Would they even remember having met you? Would they look forward to seeing you again?
Every single day we make our mark on those with whom we come in contact. We all leave some kind of an impression, whether intentional or otherwise. How do you want people to remember you?
You are probably familiar with the term “corporate vision statement”, which specifies what a company is striving to become. A personal vision is the picture you have of yourself. It serves as your guiding light and inspires you to focus on a better future without holding on to regrets. Do you have a personal vision statement? If not, let that be your homework assignment.
Give it a try. You might be amazed at how much better your relationships can be, going forward.