I want to be like Southwest Airlines

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Collins and Hansen have written an excellent research-based book called “Great by Choice” in which they surveyed companies that outperformed their tumultuous industries and times by 10x or more. People who lead these organizations are affectionately called “10xers.”

One excellent example is Southwest Airlines. If you invested $10,000 in Southwest in 1972, your investment would have been worth $12,000,000 in 2002. That’s 63.4x better than the market and 550.4x better than their industry. Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the book.

Myths we believe about successful organizations in turbulent times:

  • Successful leaders have to be bold, risk-seeking visionaries. Instead, figure out what worked, why it worked and build on proven foundations. Be more disciplined, empirical and paranoid.
  • Innovation distinguishes 10x companies in a fast-moving, uncertain and chaotic world. Instead, be able to scale innovation and blend creativity with discipline.
  • A threat-filled world favors the speedy; you’re either quick or you’re dead. Instead, figure out when to go fast and when not to.
  • Radical change on the outside requires radical change on the inside. Instead, change less.
  • Great enterprises with 10x success have a lot more good luck. Instead, it’s about what you do with luck (good and bad) when you get it.

Points to emphasize as you lead your organization:

  • Fanatic Discipline keeps you on track. Discipline is consistency of action, values, long-term goals, performance standards, and method. The highest form is self-discipline. Fanatic discipline stays the course and goes well beyond any “normal curve.”
  • Empirical Creativity keeps you vibrant. Empirical creativity is about direct observation, experiments, and gathering evidence. Most people turn to authority figures, peers, group norms for advice. 10xers gather their own evidence. They don’t favor analysis over action; they favor empiricism as the foundation for decisive action.
  • Productive Paranoia keeps you alive. Paranoia says, “Events could turn against me at any moment. They will. I’d better be prepared.” It’s not about paranoia per say, but about “effective action.” It’s about being hypervigilant. Productive paranoia keeps conservative financial positions and prepares for the unexpected.
  • Level 5 Ambition provides inspired motivation. Channel the “ego and intensity” into something larger and more enduring than yourself. It’s about building a great company, changing the world, achieving a great object that’s ultimately not about you. Level 5 leaders have personal humility and professional will. They hold inspired standards as more important than inspiring personality. The central question: “What are you in it for?” The answer is “impact, contribution and purpose” over “money, fame and power.”

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For me, this looks like

  • gathering consistent people around me and being a consistent person myself. This includes values, strategies and standards. It’s about developing self-discipline. The Holy Spirit gives the fruit of self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit first filled someone for the arts and “all kinds of skills” (Exodus 33:1-3).
  • thinking deeply and looking into details even when it’s uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit gives gifts of words of wisdom and words of knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8). Luke, who wrote to of the longest books of the New Testament, was a doctor that wrote with incredible detail for that era. As an example, we learn a lot about how Jesus died and rose again because Luke wrote with a high level of detail and checked his facts.
  • preparing for the unexpected; counting the cost. (Luke 14:25-34). We read over and over about the preparations David made to fight in battle. He wasn’t just hoping that things would go well. He knew that God would make him victorious, and he prepared for that victory. He often cited the exact number of men and supplies he was taking with him into battle. 
  • reminding myself and others around me about the bigger vision we have: we’re changing the world (Habakkuk 2:2). Jesus gives a vision of love and what we could be that compelled him beyond his comfort zone. Vision gives pain a purpose and personal humility mixed with aspiration to do something great is what will lead us boldly to new heights. 

Let’s fly like Southwest as we lead our organizations to 10x contributions.

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