We spend a lot of time flying on Southwest Airlines and I enjoy reading their in- flight magazine. I recently read about Herb Kellerher, the founder of Southwest. Herb lived a great life for 87 years and he was an ingenious leader who embodied personal qualities we should all strive towards. Here’s a bit of what I read:
Herb saw everyone the same—as people. He had a unique ability to see beyond a person’s apparent station in life and to lift them higher than they would have otherwise reached.
He let employees be themselves. He wanted creative risk-takers, not automatons. Instead of a rigorous manual, his employees followed 30 pages of guidelines. The first line read: “Feel free to break [guidelines] in the interest of our customers.”
He was full of fun and laughter. He modeled this behavior creating a fun work environment.
He had a remarkable memory. He recalled people’s names. He valued them as individuals, not just “producers.”
He wasn’t perfect. “I forgive all personal weaknesses except egomania and pretension,” he was quoted as saying. Herb could be absentminded.
His on-time arrivals were a challenge. He would sometimes delay flights he was supposed to travel on, due to an engrossing conversation he was part of.
He could warm-up any room. He was a servant-leader. He was engaging, could make fun of himself, and took time to make people feel important.
His engine never stopped. He said, “There is a difference between micromanagement which deprives others of initiative, creativity, and growth; and ‘micro-knowledge,’ which aids in making excellent leadership decisions.” He burned the candle at both ends and loved sharing antidotal stories.
Southwest has a very successful business model, and since leadership and attitudes start at the top, it’s no wonder, with the legacy of Herb.