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What a Smile Means to Me


For longer than I can remember, smiling has been a big part of my life. My mother said I smiled before I talked, I laughed before I cried, and I danced before I walked.  So according to Mom, I came into this world with a positive attitude.


I think there’s a strong connection between smiling and success.  Many great business people understand this. For example, when Walt Disney created his theme parks, he had a vision that all the people who came to Disneyland would leave the park with smiles on their faces. So smiling was built right into the Disney organization’s official vision and purpose.


You can tell a lot about a company by how much smiling goes on. For example, at Southwest Airlines, smiling is a by-product of one of the company’s core values: a Fun-Loving Attitude.  I found that out one year when I was leaving for a trip that was going to take me to four different cities during the week.  As I approached the airport, I realized that I had forgotten my license and didn’t have a passport with me, either.  Not having time to go back home to get them and make the flight, I had to be creative. Now mind you, this was in the days before 9/11 and all the additional airport security we have now.












Only one of my books has my picture on the cover—Everyone’s a Coach—which I wrote with Don Shula, the legendary NFL football coach from the Miami Dolphins.  So when I got to the airport, I ran into the bookstore and luckily, they had a copy of my book.  Fortunately, the first airline I had to go to was Southwest Airlines.  As I was checking my bag at the curb, the porter asked to see my identification.  I said, “I feel badly.  I don’t have a driver’s license or a passport. But will this do?” And I showed him the cover of the book.  He gave me a great big smile and shouted out, “The man knows Shula!  Put him in first class!”  Of course, Southwest doesn’t have first class.  Everybody out by the curbside check-in started to smile and high-five me.  I was like a hero.


Why did that happen?  Herb Kelleher, who founded Southwest, had a clear vision when he started that company.  Not only did he want to give his customers the lowest possible price, he wanted to give them the best possible service.  He encouraged everyone to smile and have a Fun-Loving Attitude. He also empowered everyone—including the frontline baggage check folks—with the power to make decisions and use their brains, so they could soar like eagles and create raving fan customers.










The next airline I had to go to was one that had been having financial problems. It was staffed by people who frowned and quacked like ducks rather than smiled and soared like eagles. When I tried to check in with the same procedure as Southwest, the guy at the curb check-in frowned and said, “No way.  Quack!  Quack!  I can’t do that.  You’d better go to the ticket counter.  Quack!  Quack!”  When I got to the ticket counter the person there frowned and said, “I’ll have to get my supervisor.  Quack!  Quack!”  The supervisor came over and when he saw the book I was using for an I.D. he frowned and said, “Let me get my supervisor.  Quack!  Quack!”  It took four different people before they would consider letting me use a picture on a book as identification.


It was no surprise at all to me that the airline company filled with smiling, helpful people was doing a lot better financially than the airline staffed by frowning ducks.


Smiling brings joy and lightness to relationships in business as well as in your personal life. It can make the difference between drudgery and fun. It helps create an atmosphere where people feel free to act with spontaneity and passion. So smile!


Ken Blanchard

coauthor of The One Minute Manager® and Leading at a Higher Level


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