What is work? This existential question has baffled great thinkers and the common worker alike for centuries. The French philosopher Albert Camus compared work to the fate of Sisyphus, the Greek myth about a man condemned to roll a stone up a hill only to have it roll back down.
Steve Jobs tells workers to love what they do and in that love, they will find success. And Thomas Edison reminds us that there is no substitute for hard work.
Another inspirational leader takes a different approach. Colleen C. Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, believes workers should take a positive approach with them to their jobs in order to fundamentally change their relationship with the concept of work. “Work is either fun or drudgery. It depends on your attitude. I like fun.”
Leading with Passion
Barrett joined Southwest in 1978 and held a series of increasingly important positions, eventually including Vice President of Administration, Vice President of Customers, Chief Operating Officer, and finally, President from 2001 to 2008.
She wrote the book “Lead With Luv: A Different Way to Create Real Success” exploring how to lead companies differently by empowering workers and creating a positive work environment.
For Barrett, work is about making a positive difference in the lives of others. She credits her mother for providing the inspiration for her positive outlook on life and for teaching her essential lessons on leadership.
“She taught me altruism, Golden Rule behavior and to have a giving heart, because there is always someone more in need than you. That epitomizes what servant leadership is all about,” Barrett said.
Taking the Lead
Barrett provides a noteworthy example of how to approach work and jobs for both the up and coming workforce and those already at work. Work, for her, is about seeing yourself as a leader and using your position — no matter what that position might be — to have a positive impact on those around you.
For Barrett, leadership isn’t confined to people with specific titles. Leadership is within every worker. It happens when we seek to influence the thinking, behavior or development of people in their lives, personal or professional.
Seeing work as an opportunity to become a leader and influence people takes the drudgery out of work and empowers workers to become more than just daily workers or task managers. It leads to increased engagement with work, and studies show that engaged workers are happier, perform better and have greater success.
Barrett’s philosophy of work helped make Southwest Airlines the successful company it is today. Adopting her philosophy can change the way we all see work and transforming it from a Sisyphean struggle to a joyful enterprise.