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Linda Rutherford: “It’s the little things that really count ”

It’s the little things that really count — I learned that recognition doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy; some of the best feedback I received from the last year was when I texted or emailed an Employee to tell them what a great job they did on a certain project and why. Or included shout-outs in […]

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It’s the little things that really count — I learned that recognition doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy; some of the best feedback I received from the last year was when I texted or emailed an Employee to tell them what a great job they did on a certain project and why. Or included shout-outs in my all department email communication.

It’s OK to not be OK — I learned after losing my Mom that I could lean on others, tell them how I was feeling and ask to talk things out. I told myself not to feel bad for needing others and those who helped were grateful to be asked.

We need to talk more about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace — These were always tricky subjects to broach in the workplace, but more and more, leaders are asking deeper questions to make sure people are in a good place, sharing resources available to Employees if they need help, and we’ve added webinars from our in-house experts and had terrific take rates for the content.


As a part of our series called 5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure to interview Linda Rutherford.

Linda is a nearly 30-year veteran communications leader who serves as the Senior Vice President & Chief Communications Officer at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. The travel and tourism industries have been decimated during the COVID pandemic, and the last year has presented Southwest with some of its biggest challenges in order to survive, meet changing Customer demands, and respond to a patchwork of changing travel restrictions and state and federal regulations.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’ve been with Southwest Airlines for nearly 29 years and was a newspaper and magazine journalist prior to joining the airline. I started in an entry-level position at Southwest and worked my way into an executive role with responsibility for our communications, social business and emergency response strategies, our culture and engagement programs, business continuity, community outreach, employee insights and enterprise risk management practice areas.

What has been the biggest adjustment while working from home from your in-person workplace? Can you please share a story or example?

The biggest adjustment has been figuring out how to have non-programmed interactions with peers and coworkers. The watercooler or hallway conversation doesn’t happen naturally while we’re all working from our home offices, and that is something I’ve missed. It’s those organic conversations we need to work harder to recreate in our new way of working.

What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?

The freedom to meet people out for a glass of wine or friends for a dinner out; our at-home cooking game has been notched up, but we miss the company of family and friends and are excited to get back to that routine once the vaccine is more widely distributed.

The pandemic was a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic? OR What do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response?

One of the unexpected positives is that good is good enough; we’ve gotten away from needing perfection in everything and that has been a great stress reliever for my team. There is grace extended when needed and we are still turning out great work. Another positive is faster decision-making. We aren’t in analysis paralysis; we’re moving quicker as an organization toward decisions that keep the business, a major initiative, or a transformation moving ahead.

How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?

Well, I think I did what many others did; I looked around the house at what I hadn’t had time to tackle and organized closets, made boxes for charity, tried new recipes out on my family and doubled the size of our grow and share a garden. We also made good progress on all those programs we hoped to binge-watch.

What has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?

2020 was a year of love, loss and learning. Professionally, I learned more in one year than I have in the decade previous — it was humbling but exciting work, and I loved celebrating small victories with my team. It was also a personally devastating year for me, as I lost my mother after a brief illness (not COVID related). I coped by letting others know when I was not OK and reaching out for help, encouragement and words of wisdom. I reminded myself that I did not need to grieve, suffer or merely survive in silence. My network of friends, family and coworkers have been supportive, thoughtful and seemed to say and do just the right thing when I needed it most.

Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • It’s the little things that really count — I learned that recognition doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy; some of the best feedback I received from the last year was when I texted or emailed an Employee to tell them what a great job they did on a certain project and why. Or included shout-outs in my all department email communication.
  • It’s OK to not be OK — I learned after losing my Mom that I could lean on others, tell them how I was feeling and ask to talk things out. I told myself not to feel bad for needing others and those who helped were grateful to be asked.
  • Culture is not all about physical gatherings — I learned that we can be creative in our new virtual worlds to create moments that matter for our Employees that don’t rely on a conference room gathering or in-person meeting. Those will be nice when we can return to them, but we don’t have to depend on them to continue to nurture our corporate culture.
  • Marry your best friend — I learned while not traveling as much in the last 12 months that I got to spend more time with my husband than I had in years. He’s funny, thoughtful and takes care of so much around the house that I was never there to see but have been able to appreciate SO much more in the last year.
  • We need to talk more about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace — These were always tricky subjects to broach in the workplace, but more and more, leaders are asking deeper questions to make sure people are in a good place, sharing resources available to Employees if they need help, and we’ve added webinars from our in-house experts and had terrific take rates for the content.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?

My life lesson quote is always the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. It was especially relevant to me during 2020 as so much was uncertain, out of my immediate control, and something most of us have never experienced in our lifetimes.

How can our readers follow you online?

  • @SWAFollower on Twitter
  • @LindainTX on Instagram

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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