THE INC. LIFE

This Singing Southwest Passenger Teaches Us a Lesson Every Company Can Learn From

One Southwest passenger made us all laugh but it’s the lesson about corporate values that matters most.

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BY John Eades - 10 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Southwest Airlines has modeled what a great organizational culture looks like for decades. One of the pillars of their culture success is values. Values are simply, principles and standards of behavior.

Former Starbucks executive Howard Behar told me on the Follow My Lead Podcast, "values are developed by what you reward, recognize, and talk about."

Humor, or as Southwest calls it their "fun-LUVing attitude," has always been a value they reward, recognize, and talk about.

A Southwest Airport gate in New Orleans provided the perfect setting to show their core values lived out to perfection. When a Southwest employee required everyone who asked a question to sing, one fearless customer took them up on it.

While the video has gone viral because of the brilliant singing performance, there are some bigger lessons at play:

Talk is cheap.

Defining the values of an organization or team is important, but it's not nearly as important as living them out. I love the story about a time when former Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher received an email complaint from a customer about flight attendants using humor when describing their safety protocol in the event of a water landing. Instead of giving away free flights or apologizing for his employee's use of having a "Fun-LUVing attitude," he wrote 3 words back to the passenger, "we'll miss you."

If you don't define values they will define you.

It's easy to assume employees or team members know the values of your team. Unfortunately, it's a mistake because people have different principles or standards of behavior that they deem acceptable. Defining them for in your organization provides a definition of what good looks like. If you haven't already, take time to define them, then communicate them all the time.

Greed can be a value.

I haven't come across a company or leader today where growth isn't a top priority. While that is important, a growth mindset only fixated on money can produce behaviors that hurt or jeopardize good core values. If the focus is on growth, reward, recognize, and talk about the process or behaviors that produce the results, not the results themselves.