Southwest Airline’s Herb Kelleher’s Leadership Style

Herb Kelleher Leadership Qualities

Herb Kelleher was the co-founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines from 1981 to 2007. He was known as a very empathetic and charismatic leader that earned him respect throughout the industry resulting in a profit for a consecutive 24 years. To date, Southwest is the fifth largest airline in the United States.

Leadership Core Values

The core values of Herb Kelleher’s style of leadership are based on one simple concept… “Be Yourself.”

The following core values were seen within Herb Kelleher’s leadership style.

1. Do Good for Others
This in itself is believed to make a difference. Instilling the dedication and faith into your employees, bringing forth a vision makes all the difference. This is based on serving the legitimate needs of their customers. Herb Kelleher was able to complete this simple task by taking the mindset of treating his employees first, This resulted in the employees providing exceptional service to the customers.

2. Have Fun, Make a Difference
Herb was flamboyant and loud by nature. However his humble heart allowed him to treat others as equals. With a small office and no window, Herb would be caught going through the airport, giving hugs to all the employees.

3. Focus on the Customer
This core value was displayed in Kelleher’s desire to encourage his employees to go the extra mile for their customers. As a result of this core value, Southwest had the lowest complaints in the industry filed per 100,000 passengers carried.

4. Hire the Right People
Employees of Southwest were encourages to take personality tests that helped to determine what type of fit they would be for the position. In his mindset, personality could not be changed, but leadership and management could be taught.

Herb Kelleher Leadership Quotes

“We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”

“When someone comes to me with a cost saving idea, I don’t immediately jump up and say yes. I ask: what’s the effect on the customer?”

“A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear.”

“Most people think of us as this flamboyant airline, … but we’re really very conservative from the fiscal standpoint. . . . We never got dangerously in debt and never let costs get out of hand.”

“Succession planning has been a major priority at Southwest for quite some time. We think we have come up with a winning combination of talent for our company reorganization.”

“It wasn’t a matter of public policy; it was a matter of political power.”

“If the employees come first, then they’re happy, … A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It’s not one of the enduring Green mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works.”

Herb Kelleher is considered not only a legend in the first of aviation, but voted as one of the ten best CEO’s in the United States by Fortune.

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