You cannot lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people. — Dr. Cornel West

We were lucky enough to see Cornel West speak this past weekend at an event that had to do with Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070. The woman who introduced him recited the trademark lines that were featured on the Starbucks Coffee Cups "The Way We See It."

While he didn’t say this in the specific context of business and organizations (although he had plenty to say about the corrupt values of many large corporations) it struck us that Love and Service are rarely the first two qualities on the list of “Leadership Qualities.”  Check it out. Most of the lists touting Top Leadership Qualities have to do with vision, integrity, intelligence, decisiveness, risk-taking and fairness.

You hear leaders talking about the importance of loving their jobs, loving a challenge, loving what they do — but loving the people they work with? Not so much.

You hear leaders espouse the necessity for serving customers, and the ways in which they serve the marketplace. But hearing them expound on the ways they serve those they lead? That is rare.

We know at least one well-known company that doesn’t hesitate to use both words freely — and it’s not only managed to succeed, the people who run it have been heralded for their loving, serving ways. Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher, current CEO Gary Kelly, and President Emeritus Colleen Barrett, use “love” and service” freely when talking about their employees, their customers and even their shareholders. Those words have been part of the Southwest lexicon from the very beginning. It even chose LUV for its stock market ticker symbol.

Gary Kelly, who took over as CEO when Herb Kelleher retired in 2004, has said that the Southwest organizational culture is like a family, “And that implies love.”

“My passion always has been, and always will be, serving other people,” said Colleen Barrett, while speaking in 2008 to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton College of Business.

As the company’s president, “85 percent of my time is spent on employees and delivering pro-active customer service to the employees.”  It’s not that she’s soft on business results. She argues that it only makes good business sense. Her thinking is that if she and other company leaders are doing that well, it’s going to show up on the bottom line because it will trickle (or gush) over to the customers, who will get “outstanding, proactive service.” And if they get that, well, they’re bound to come back for more.

In the Southwest food chain, shareholders are at the bottom, and yet unlike many airline shareholders, they have consistently received a return on their investment for 35 years (as of 2008). Barrett says she wishes people could see the “love fest” that takes place at shareholders meetings. “It’s awesome,” she said.

We love it.