Still Much to Learn From Fred Rogers

Bob Jordan, Southwest Airlines President and CEO

Bob Jordan

President & CEO, Southwest Airlines

To state the obvious, it’s a complex world out there.

You can’t read or watch the news, look at social media, or go anywhere without seeing the divisiveness in the world on so many topics.

What’s concerning to me isn’t our inability to agree. We all bring our own unique experiences and perspectives to our beliefs. What’s concerning is lack of willingness to even listen, the lack of respect, and the vitriol, negativity, and hate behind the way people disagree. We should be able to have hard conversations without having to agree, and without either party coming away feeling personally attacked. It’s unrealistic to think we’ll agree on everything! We should be able to disagree, and we should be able to do so respectfully, with dignity, with grace, and with the LUV (and love!) that we stand for at Southwest Airlines. Some of the greatest moments in Southwest history have been born from differing perspectives—from disagreements with other carriers just to get our airline off the ground, or our decision to not charge for bags when nearly everyone else did. We decided to lean to our Customers, not away from them, and it has always served us well.

There are so many factors that contribute to the decline of civility in today’s world. Social media. Politics. A shift away from civic institutions where people used to make social connections. A “me first” view of the world. And here we are, in an election year, where civility is likely to get much worse before it gets better. It’s hard not to let that take a toll, and it’s crucial that we find a way to maintain respect and civility.

At Southwest Airlines, our Purpose is to Connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. Our mission is to bring people together, not to divide. We’re not a political or social organization. We’re an airline. We exist to provide Hospitality, to run a great operation, to provide a wonderful place for our Employees to work, and create a place where People want to come to work and feel like they belong every single day.

Our Values define who we are and what we stand for as a Company, and they’ve served us very well for more than 50 years. We have three main categories: Me (How I Show Up), We (How We Treat Each Other), and Southwest (How Southwest Succeeds). Under each category are three values, and we go one step further to define each of them in plain language. For example, the value of “Service with LUV” is

described as practicing Hospitality, Living by The Golden Rule, and the plainspoken “don’t be rude.” Our value of Teamwork is spelled out as practicing civility, embracing Team over self, and being inclusive. Every time we’re faced with a difficult question, we go right back to our core Values, which determine who we are, what we stand for, and what sustains us.

Southwest Airlines is and always has been special—a unique and different Company that dared to believe in thinking outside of the box, in hiring the best People and trusting that they—devoted to the cause—can do anything. While we’re much larger and admittedly more complex than decades ago, our foundational differences—our focus on our Values, our Culture, and our People—remains the same.

Fred Rogers has a famous quote, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

I believe that our awesome Southwest People are the helpers. We look to serve others before self, and to rise above cynicism, negativity, and defeatism. And, we strive to stand for something better in this world. If everyone can extend that level of care for each other—yes, even when we disagree—what a world it will be!