Under-Whelming Advice from a former CEO of Southwest Airlines

I’m still grappling with Jim Parker’s advice. He was the CEO of Southwest Airlines during the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

Jim said, “I don’t think I smiled for two years.”

When I asked for Jim’s favorite advice, he said, “Be yourself.”

Frankly, I was underwhelmed. But when a leader with battle scars gives advice, you pay attention.

I continue to learn the power of, “Be yourself.” Here’s where I’m at eight years after my conversation with Jim Parker.

#1. “Be yourself,” is self-affirming nonsense unless you give yourself in service.

Sammy Davis Jr. made, “I’ve Gotta be Me,” a hit song in 1968.  If you embrace the message of this song, do it in service to others.

Self-discovery is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

A life lived in service to itself is a colossal waste.

Never use “I’m being myself” as an excuse to play it safe or live for yourself.

#2. “Be yourself,” stabilizes your leadership in turbulent times.

If you don’t know who you are, you end up tossed in the wind. You lose yourself to the expectations of others. Everyone’s advice seems good.

Being yourself is making forward-facing choices that align with your aspirations, affirm your values and leverage your strengths.

#3. Don’t simply, “Be yourself.” Be your aspirational self.

Aspiration adds dignity and direction to self-discovery.

Get a picture of who you aspire to become and live up to your aspiration.

Begin with formative aspects of your story.

  1. How has adversity shaped you?
  2. How are you like your parents or relatives?
  3. What stories do you frequently share about yourself? What do those stories say about you?

Use your story as a beginning, not an end.

Tip: Include others in the process of self-discovery. What do others see in you? You never know yourself in isolation.

What does Jim Parker’s advice – Be Yourself – mean to you?

What prevents leaders from being themselves?