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.


I have never been big fan of etiquette—it smacks of authority and conformity. But I do believe in good manners, and I know they have a powerful effect on the fabric of society.  Too often these days, the “prevalent custom” of treating each other with courtesy and respect is rapidly devolving, especially in public life.

Merriam-Webster defines etiquette as “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” I don’t really know what “good breeding” means, and “prescribed by authority,” sounds a little too hierarchical for my liking. Manners, “the social conduct as shown in prevalent custom,” feels more comfortable, especially when it is modified by the adjective “good.” Without the modifier, our conversations are at risk for creating frictions, strife and divisiveness, which is fraying our civil society. Witness almost any popular talk show, many blogs (especially in the comments), or conversations among politicians and other leaders. We are seeing a slow unraveling of the goodwill and mutual respect that Peter Drucker referred to as “the lubricating oil of modern organizations.”

We got a powerful reminder of this last week as participants at an event called It’s Up to Me AZ. The keynote address was delivered by Frances Hesselbein, president and CEO of the Leader to Leader Institute and editor-in-chief of Leader to Leader Journal.* She a 95-year-old leadership icon who continues to work hard, travels extensively and is consistently gracious. She spoke about the need to return to good manners, as a way of creating a climate of trust and respect.

We consider good manners a form of extending goodwill to others, even when — especially when — it is a difficult conversation.

People often see goodwill as a feeling or emotion, believing it requires that you like the person you’re talking to. Goodwill is not a feeling — it is a choice about how we bring ourselves present in any given moment. And it is a skill that can be developed. We can choose to approach a conversation with goodwill, no matter what. Even with a stranger. Even if we disagree. Even if we don’t like the other person.

As Hesselbein says, good manners are not about mindless or old-fashioned rules but rather are about “the quality and character of who we are.” Good manners are about who we choose to be in the world.

It takes manners and civility to build the “healthy, inclusive, and embracing relationships that unleash the human spirit” she said.  Goodwill is foundational — it breeds a culture of accountability, commitment and collaboration. And if you’re trying to succeed in the marketplace, that kind of “good breeding” makes business sense.

*(If you’d like a free copy of the article on Authentic Conversations we published in Leader to Leader Journal, please send us an email at


Ground Zero Mosque or Islamic Community Center?

Undocumented immigrant or illegal alien?

Tax cuts or tax relief?

Civilian deaths or collateral damage?

We are reminded of labels’ potency every time we listen to the news. The louder the rhetoric becomes, the more labels get charged with power.

By naming things, we create a reality, and that reality colors the worlds we have created by the labels we use. People and things become what we name them. Complex issues get reduced to a catchy, easy-to-remember phrases and sound bites.

Labels can be useful — try to have a conversation with out them. And they can be dangerous, because we quickly forget that by creating a label, we have breathed into it independent life.  We project power on our creations and allow ourselves to be defined and ruled by them. And too often, we sail along oblivious to the danger that comes with exercising our genius for using words to create truth.

Labels also are a tempting way to distort reality and deceive ourselves. We saw a powerful and unsettling example of this in a documentary about the war in Afghanistan we recently viewed. The camera cut between scenes of dead civilians and their mourning families and a emotionally distraught Army sergeant. He lamented that the Army’s mission of winning was over the hearts of the people was derailed when “locals” were accidentally killed and injured.

How do you rob labels of their power? By looking behind them. By deconstructing the assumptions upon which they are founded. By wading past the sound bites and getting neck-deep in the complexities. By remembering that labels can create illusions and delusions, and are not reality.


The principals of scientific management are aimed at efficiency and finding one best way to do something. By its nature this means reductionist thinking, breaking things down, streamlining, making things lean. Efficiency is king.

In his book, The One Best Way, Robert Kanigel writes that Frederick Taylor could be the most influential philosopher of the 20th century — scientific management has become the water and we are the fish. We have applied these philosophies in education, healthcare, social service systems and our own personal lives. Do you drive to work or the store the same way all the time? Of course! You go the one best way.

The purpose here is not to bash Taylor or efficiency. Both have made significant contributions to our world of work, society and “economies of scale”. The problem is that scientific management was conceived to quash innovation and experimentation – find one best way and repeat it over and over.

In a marketplace owned by the customer, innovation is both longed for and necessary. Innovation by its nature requires expansive acts. It demands experimentation and creative thinking, which means risks will be taken and mistakes will be made. Innovation and creativity demand open access to information, interaction and feedback, the antithesis of what Taylor demanded when he wrote The Principles of Scientific Management: “Under our system, the workman is told just what he is to do and how he is to do it.  Any improvement which he makes upon orders given him is futile to success.”

Even today, that is the message disseminated in many workplaces: Managers figure things out, core workers do as they are told. Managers watch to “make sure” and core workers avoid scrutiny and getting caught in a ‘mistake.’

What gets lost in that dynamic is the benefit of collective thinking. At about the same time Taylor was developing and defending his principles, a man named Francis Galton was conducting research on the other side of the world that supports the power of many minds. In weight-judging competition at the annual show of the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition in Plymouth, people were given the chance to guess the weight of an ox after slaughter and dressing. Those who guessed most successfully received prizes.While no one correctly guessed its exact weight — 1197 pounds — the average of the 800 attempts was only one pound off: 1198 pounds.

Ever so slowly organizations are beginning to wake up to the simple truth illustrated in this study and many since — the collective possesses far greater wisdom than any individual. James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, says three things are necessary to harvest collective wisdom.

  1. Organizations need a way to aggregate many individual judgments to produce collective wisdom. One example of is using whole system, large group engagement for deliberating and resolving difficult issues.

  2. The group benefits from diversity, which allows people to look at a problem with multiple perspectives. Bringing customers, suppliers, interested third parties and radical thinkers into deliberation processes is a way to achieve maximum diversity

  3. People should be encouraged to think for themselves rather than constantly taking cues from each other. Authentic conversations help create a culture of informed collaboration where mistakes are seen as learning experiences and differences are valued.

When many perspectives are valued over the one, rather than imposing one perspective on the many, the organization will begin seeing the fruits of collective wisdom.