If you’re reading this, you probably already believe that broadening the context of business beyond the immediate demands of customers or investors is a courageous and necessary act. But how can this be done reliably?

The concept of sustained delight illuminates a path to long-term focus. It invites leaders to ask questions like…

  • What do we offer that can delight customers on a sustained basis?
  • What are the workplace conditions and interactions that can delight employees on a sustained basis?
  • What are the benefits to investors that can delight them on a sustained basis?
  • What are the kinds of interactions with society that can delight the public on a sustained basis?

Southwest Airlines, for example, is iconic for encouraging its employees to have fun at work. Its former CEO, Herb Kelleher, instilled a culture of fun in his company, publicly arm-wrestling other CEOs for rights to advertising slogans, dressing up as Elvis Presley at work, hiding in his plane’s overhead bins and surprising his staff, and engaging in many other laugh-inducing antics that made work more like play.

Southwest employees take humor seriously, and make it part of their everyday interactions. The following are some examples of Southwest’s on-board announcements:

  • “Your seat cushions can be used for flotation. In the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments.”
  • “For those of you traveling with multiple small children, we serve alcohol aboard this flight.”
  • “If you liked your flight, this was Southwest Airlines flight 837, with Tim, Sabrina, and Steve. If you did not like your flight, this was United Airlines flight 257 with Tom, Susie, and Rick.”

In addition to humor, Kelleher emphasized the recognition of who employees were as individuals by listening to them well, becoming an inspiration to his employees and to other executives in the industry. Doug Parker, CEO of US Airways, said of Kelleher, “He is so good at listening, and has really taught me how important it is to listen to your employees. If you watch Herb in action, it really is phenomenal. He is completely engaged and never looks over your shoulders to see who else is in the room. It’s not out of principle. It’s just who he is.”

Encouraging employees to delight in their work and at recognizing their contributions has paid off handsomely for Southwest. It is the most financially successful of all major US airlines — the only one that had thirty-nine consecutive years of profitability in an industry notorious for bankruptcies and business losses.

The concept of sustained delight provides a broad and deep new definition of business success, and can help to anchor a business leader in a Being-centered mindset. From a Being-centered perspective, the greater the breadth (across customers, employees, investors, and society) and depth (across the material, human, natural, and Being levels of self) of sustained delight, the more successful the business is.

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