I remember hearing the French President François Mitterrand explain that qualifications were not essential when it came to hiring ministers and civil servants. Of course a necessary level of competence was required but, when bringing people on board, nothing was more important to Mitterrand than their frames of mind and their levels of commitment.

That was back in the eighties, at a time when I still believed in detailed job descriptions that specified the precise capabilities expected of candidates. Years later, I came across the famous phrase “Hire for attitude, train for skill,”1 which was uttered by none other than Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, a company with top performance in its sector.

Thousands of managers have tried to take Herb Kelleher’s advice, more or less successfully, depending on the single-mindedness with which they have followed it. One well-known example is Tony Hsieh, the founder and CEO of Zappos. He followed Kelleher’s guidance to the letter. Hsieh is convinced that happy employees put everything into giving their customers maximum satisfaction. He talks about “happiness management” and he has written a book about his approach called Delivering Happiness.

Employees First

Employees first”2 should not be seen as just a management adage or a sort of value-added accessory. This concept is at the very heart of Southwest Airlines’ unmatched success. Naturally, the company’s ...

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