Southwest Airlines’ legendary founder, Chairman-Emeritus, and my mentor and friend (and hero!) once wisely said, “The business of business is People.” Herb Kelleher had it right, as he always did. It was his love for People—all People—that fueled his passion to build a Company that is bound by love. At the time, and even to a degree now, the word “love” is rarely used in corporate America. At Southwest, we embrace it. In fact, our NYSE ticker symbol is (LUV), our home airport is Dallas Love Field, and we’ve incorporated love in just about every aspect of our business, including our corporate logo.
On the heels of our 49th birthday, we find ourselves in a vastly different world than it was when we took to the skies in 1971. However, our Purpose has remained unchanged—to connect People—all People. We have been able to do that by making flying affordable, by democratizing the skies, with an egalitarian service where there is no second class. Our People have a tremendous amount of pride and passion for bringing People closer together to help make the world a smaller, more unified place. Never has that Purpose been more important in our company’s—and country’s—history.
History has taught us brutal lessons of the consequences of what happens in societies when dialogue is absent and polarization runs rampant and unchecked. Just a century and a half ago, the Civil War erupted as President Lincoln came into office and seven states seceded from the Union, soon joined by four more, to form the Confederate States of America. Four long years and more than 600,000 American lives lost later—with millions more wounded—the costliest and deadliest war in our history, on our soil, left the South in ruins. That is the bleakest, darkest example of what happens when dialogue and democracy give way to unrelenting polarization. We must never forget.
It must not be lost on any of us that the Civil War was fought for the freedom of Black slaves—150 years ago. We’ve come a long way—but not nearly far enough, and the Black Lives Matter racial injustice movement today should teach us all that we clearly have not learned and fully embraced the lessons of our dark past.
As a student of history and leaders past and present, I have learned that one of the principles of any great leader is the ability to communicate. In fact, it may be the most important quality. Communication is not merely the ability to articulate one’s self, point of view, or vision. From my experience, the best communicators are great because they are the best listeners.
It is my belief that most conflict often results from a lack of understanding. Obviously, conflict can be fed by pure hatred, but for the most part, people are reasonable. As perspectives are shared, you may not agree with everyone and it’s not always easy to try to understand another perspective, but we must. It challenges us, and it also opens our minds and our hearts. We have to listen to one another to achieve understanding.
What we want at Southwest is to have a safe and an inclusive Family. Inclusive means that people are seen and that they are heard. As difficult as these conversations are, they need to take place more than ever, and they need to be done with respect.
As business and civic leaders, I encourage us all to continue to focus on listening to achieve understanding. After all, the business of business is people—all people—and now is the time to embrace love and understanding, not fear and hatred.
We can do better. We must do better. Our future depends on it.