Respect, Trust, and Accountability: 3 Tips for Managers from Southwest Airlines and WD-40 Company

Colleen Barrett, past president of Southwest Airlines, and Garry Ridge, president and CEO of WD-40 Company both spoke at The Ken Blanchard Companies recent 2010 Client Summit.  Each leader talked about the ways that they have created a close-knit, high performing culture in their organizations through a combination of high expectations with a sense of caring that is very unique in business today. 

Most leaders believe that focusing on people versus focusing on performance is an either/or decision.  The belief is that you can’t have both.  Still for some reason, Southwest and WD-40 have been able to pull it off.  They have been able to create a caring culture and industry leading results year after year.  How are they able to strike this perfect balance?  It all begins in an important two foot space within each organization—the distance between managers and their direct reports.  By holding their managers accountable for creating an environment that features equal amounts of trust, respect, and accountability, they are able to drive results and create an environment where people feel proud and cared for. 

Would you like to build some of that same spirit into your organization?  Here are three tips for getting started.

Take the time to connect.  Find out a little bit more about your direct reports.  Share a little bit more about yourself.  Create a people-based connection.

Demonstrate trust.  Trust is an important component in any relationship.  Cultivate trust by being transparent in your thinking.  Demonstrate trust by doing what you say you’ll do.  Show that you are consistent and can be relied upon.

Have high expectations.  Expect a lot from your people and encourage them to expect a lot from you in return.  Once you’ve set up a foundation of trust and respect you have the ability to ask for more from your employees and to hold them accountable for delivering on it.

Too many organizations today act as if the human element is unimportant.  Leaders and managers don’t take the time to build connections or demonstrate trust.  But this short-cut comes back to haunt them when it’s time to set goals and hold people accountable for achieving them.  Without a relationship in place, it’s hard to ask people to give their best—and even more difficult to have a conversation when performance comes up short.  Don’t let this happen in your organization.  Follow the example set by great companies like Southwest Airlines and WD-40.  Practice trust and respect-based relationships that get results and creates a winning, people-based spirit.

5 thoughts on “Respect, Trust, and Accountability: 3 Tips for Managers from Southwest Airlines and WD-40 Company

  1. Hi,

    One needs to first be trustworthy to be able to create a trusting environment. To create trust, one needs to think, talk and behave consistently. With the fact in mind that “actions speak lower than words” we as leaders need to ensure alignment of actions with our words and thoughts. This means a leader needs to promise less and deliver more.
    With such complications and sophistication the business world is growing in to, it becomes critical day after day for leaders to start looking differently at their people. It’s time for leaders to start treating employees equally well as customers, if not a bit more. Why? because employees, no matter where they are in the organization, are the organization. They are the blood that nourishes the different body parts in organizations. They are the organization. No high performing employees, no high performing organization, no innovative products, no loyal and satisfied customers. It’s a chain reaction like relationship. Here’s how I see this relationship: Happy leaders – Happy employees – Happy products – Happy customers – Happy Stakeholders – Happy leaders, and so it goes. Its time for leaders to start thinking inside out and outside in, it’s time to think two way starting from within, not purely unidirectional.

  2. Great post Dave.

    In the last tip, you write: “Expect a lot from your people and encourage them to expect a lot from you in return.”

    I would like to add one variation to that relationship that I suspect you agree with: A manager is going to have trouble expecting a lot from their people if they don’t expect a lot from themselves. Or put another way, a manager is not going to be able to expect solid performance and hold employees accountable if that manager is not doing a good job themselves.
    I theorize that in performance reviews, a traditional accountability tool in organizations, when we find managers inflating ratings of employee performance (that is, not holding employees accountable)we will often find that those managers aren’t doing a good job of managing. Whether they are failing to set up SMART goals at the beginning of the performance cycle, not giving the employees support and direction they need, or are failing in some other way, the managers simply don’t feel comfortable rating employee performance accurately. So they take the easy way out- mark the goals as either “met” or “exceeded” regardless of what the employee’s performance merits.

    In order to have managers who display both caring and candor (as Garry Ridge emphasizes), it is essential that managers do their part to help employees “Get an A.”

    • I think you’ve hit on the crux of the matter. Holding people accountable begins with managers doing an exceptional job providing the direction and support employees need to succeed. If a manager doesn’t do their job, it’s very hard for them to hold others accountable for doing theirs. That why in these high performing organizations, excellence begins at the top with managers at all levels making sure that they personally do a great job first before they start asking more from their people.

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