Mean People Suck

While he passed away some years ago, Terry “Moose” Millard continues to have a powerful impact on my view of corporate leadership. Recently, my memory was refreshed with one of his most classic statements: Mean people suck.

For those of you who never met him, he was a bigger-than-life, Vietnam-era hero, a fabled pilot/leader at Southwest Airlines and ultimately an international presenter on building high performance work cultures. He was entertaining and he was demanding.

The way that Moose said “mean people suck” was not an accusation, but a compassionate recognition of the pain that co-workers and a mean person endure, despite the opportunity to look at individual contribution through a “realistically optimistic” view of life. Mean people are rarely evil or mentally unstable, and most often discouraged, unhappy or suffering in their own way. From Moose’s perspective this was not an excuse, but he believed condemnation rarely lead to anyone becoming better team member. He had many successes, and sometimes it was best that the person left their position.

Last week, as I was in line at the airport to escape a Minnesota snowstorm, the person in front of me accosted a Southwest Airlines agent when it became clear to him that he was going to miss his connecting flight. He was loud, vulgar and demeaning to the agent who seemed to gauge the situation well, letting him talk and giving him little to fight with in her responses. When I stepped up for my new boarding pass I asked her if she had ever heard of Moose. She looked at me, began to smile and said “mean people suck.” Moose had to be smiling at that moment.