As you may have heard, Southwest Airlines received a lot of criticism for an operational meltdown of epic proportions over the holidays.

While it is easy to simply be critical of the failures of others, what lessons might leaders learn from Southwest’s experience?

A number come to my mind:

Constantly invest money and time to innovation. Most reports talked about how SWA leadership had postponed investment in scheduling and planning systems to make sure their pilots and flight attendants were in the right place at the right time.

Be receptive to feedback about potential unintended consequences. In reports I read, it appears that front line and middle management had been warning senior leadership about the risks of under-investment for years.

Don’t play stupid games, unless you want to win stupid prizes. Again, from the reporting, it appeared that short term indices that favored supporting the stock price (short term profits) were the principal success metrics.

Be vigilant about areas to improve. Even the most well-regarded companies have areas to improve. And these are constantly changing. Today it might be operations. Next year it might be customer service. In future years it might be succession or financial sustainability.

Try this:

  1. list up some of the reasons you think might have contributed to SWA’s woes
  2. take ones from your list and see if they might apply to your organization/team

Most leaders can readily see issues in other companies. But once you see the issues, try some TYOM: taking your own medicine.

TYOM is a pain-free pathway to success and a lot more useful than feeling like similar failures could not occur in our own companies.