THE BLOG
10/14/2014 01:21 pm ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

True North at Southwest Airlines

Tom Merton via Getty Images

Take a bow, Southwest Airlines! I salute your new marketing campaign "straight from the heart!" A no-brainer for me as "chief expression officer" for matters of the heart.

I find myself curious, frequently, to ask people how they like their work: restaurant wait staffs, grocery store checkout cashiers, hairstylists, carwash attendants, coffee shop Baristas, etc. Likewise, on those occasions when I fly Southwest Airlines I look into the eyes of their employees to "see" if their energy and spirit matches the company's brand communications.

My own anecdotal research confirms, for me, that their employees really do like what they do and they understand the "why." Recently on a return flight from New Orleans to Houston I removed a copy of their in-flight magazine with a cover story (above) of this new brand graphics and message. On the remote parking shuttle van to retrieve my car there was only one other passenger, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant. I pulled their inflight magazine from my briefcase for her to see and I exclaimed "isn't this neat?" She replied, "Yes it is."

Her response told me that she was genuinely proud of what her company "stood for". I asked her about where she'd been that day (Atlanta, Washington DC, New Orleans, Houston) and I asked her about her schedule ... how far in advance did she know?

I assumed that would be a factor in her work enjoyment and family life (she is a mom too ) ... a work-life balance kind of curiosity. She said "Well, we bid for our preferences and the most senior attendants, appropriately, earn the most plum routes/schedules." Then she said "I'm kind of in the middle of the pecking order". "How many years do you have," I asked. "Fifteen", she said. Later, I looked up the average tenure of flight attendants in that industry: It turns out to be 7-10 years. And, at 15 years, she's in the middle!

Southwest is founded on the premise of "democratizing flight" so Mimi could afford to fly to see her grandkids. That's their "why." Historically, their brand has expressed how they would serve Mimi with their own version of caring: LUV.

They've always been in the "love" business since their founding and now they're refreshing that with a campaign that is totally consistent with their DNA ... their True North. People ... customers and employees ... love Southwest Airlines because Southwest Airlines loves first. And they never waiver from who they are as a lovable, no-frills get-me-there-on-time business.

Symbols are important. Crafted properly, with meaning and artistry, they are a constant visual reminder of what matters to senior leadership. And what matters to the CEO and senior leadership represents an organization's True North. My own expression: "Culture is much like a compass and the 'leader's heart is a reflection of True North!". Why does all of this matter? Because a core purpose, ideology, ethos, etc., gives work meaning. People are inspired if working "on purpose" ... their hearts are in it! With purpose in place, the bonus is that the human desires for belonging and contribution are fulfilled as well. Where else would that flight attendant want to work in that industry ... or any industry for that matter?

True North. Take time to find yours. Then, just like the subtitle in our book,Peerless, "Watch what happens."