A CEO of Southwest Airlines on Goals

We forget the expected and remember the unusual. I’ve been remembering something unusual that was said to me about ten months ago.

Jim Parker, former CEO of Southwest Airlines told me, “Don’t set artificial goals for yourself. Don’t set goals about the job you want or the amount of money you want to make.”

You may ask, How can you drive toward success if you don’t have goals that define success? The operative term is “artificial.”

This morning it dawned on me why Jim frequently shares his advice about artificial goals. I’m a slow thinker. He lived and led through the most turbulent days in modern American history; the September 11th attack on the World Trade Towers.


He lost people. Events like that clarify. Artificial slips away.

I’m certain Jim isn’t against all goals. Organizational targets define success.

The lesson I take is focus on people and the contribution you plan to make.

I still remember that Jim couldn’t stop telling stories about the people of Southwest.

Every time young leaders list their artificial goals I think of Jim.

Monday morning:

In America it’s Monday morning. We’re starting a new week and I’m remembering a down-home conversation I had with a guy who lived through moments of devastating clarity. I’m remembering that life, leadership, and business are about people. It’s always that way, even if we forget it.

Set your goals higher than artificial success. Deliverables and results are important but they have the power to distract you from higher priorities. It’s a great Monday to refocus on people.


You may wonder about the “unworthy” people that work around you. Don’t turn your back on a backstabber. However, don’t let the foolishness of others make you act like a fool.

How can you refocus on people?


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