Friday, November 14, 2008

Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously

In one of my seven essential leadership insights I speak about humility and the need for leaders to keep their egos in check.

This perspective comes to life when you look into the success of Southwest Airlines, which Kevin and Jackie Frieberg did in their book "Nuts." Southwest Airlines has a list of core values, as many companies do. The difference is that they really live their values. One value in particular highlights the fact that leaders need to demonstrate humility by keeping their egos in check. This value is "Take your business seriously, but don't take yourself seriously."

If you have ever travelled Southwest Airlines and experienced their joking atmosphere, you can see how this value comes to life in their business.

Why is joking and not taking ourselves too seriously important for leaders?

Leaders need to be seen as human beings, authentic people. People don't follow scripted robots, they follow authentic leaders. When a leader takes him/herself too seriously, there usually is a feeling of rigidity and unapproachability that accompanies it. You can't lead others if there is an emotional distance. Leadership requires an emotional connection and this can't be facilitated through intimidation, fear and rigidity.

I travelled with my family to Europe this summer and we brought a light stroller for my daughter who is 4 along with us. For anyone who has ever travelled with children, you know that these items are usually gate checked. You can leave the stroller on the jetway when you depart and it is picked up on the jetway when you land.

On our way back home on Continental, I had the stroller and was placing it just outside the door. I quickly asked a question to a gentleman who was rushing by me to get on the plane. He was obviously a Continental employee. I quickly asked him, if this was an ok place to leave the stroller since this jetway had multiple doors. He brushed me off and said that he wasn't sure with a bit of a huff. It was obvious that he felt "above" answering this question. As quickly as he entered the plane, I noticed that he was either the pilot or co-pilot.

I was left with the brushed off feeling and I realized that this never would have happened at Southwest Airlines.

In fact, at Southwest Airlines, it has been seen and known that pilots have rolled up their sleeves to help load luggage onto the plane. This activity wasn't "below" them. Why does this all matter?

When we take ourselves too seriously, the ability to guide, inspire and lead others is hindered. The implications of this behavior did not only impact me, a customer. But this behavior impacts everyone working on that flight. Flight attendants and other crew are probably walking on egg shells so not to bruise this co-pilot/pilot's ego. They certainly aren't performing at their best if this is what they are concerned about.

Take your business seriously, but remember not to take yourself too seriously.

No comments: