Leadership lessons from a legend

Leadership lessons from a legend

Earlier this year, the business community lost a pioneer of conscious capitalism when Herb Kelleher, CEO and co-founder of Southwest Airlines, passed away. Kelleher’s disruptive business model and one of a kind culture were responsible for the success of the American airline.

Behind that success was Kelleher’s strong belief that love – not fear – should be at the foundation of any enterprise.

“Honor, respect, care for, protect, and reward your employees regardless of title or position, and in return, they will treat each other and their external customers in a warm, in a caring, and in a hospitable way,” Kelleher said. “This causes external customers to return, thus bringing joy to shareholders.”

His way of conducting business is truly inspiring for anyone who wants to lead in a conscious and mindful manner. There are many characteristics that made Kelleher stand out as a leader, according to an article by leadership experts Kevin and Jackie Freiberg in Forbes magazine. They cite an array of great qualities that every leader should aspire to, including showing interest.

Kelleher acted more like a friend than a boss to the employees of his company. The simple act of taking an interest in the employees’ lives made a huge difference in how the workers performed. This was accomplished by really listening to what people had to say. There is a big difference between hearing and listening. When you listen to a person, they feel important and empowered. These are the characteristics you want in all employees.

Another important characteristic that Kelleher possessed was not defining a person by class or title. Everyone was equal to him – whether it be the person cleaning the bathroom or a top-level executive. To do this, you must treat everyone, regardless of status, with respect. When employees know that they are treated equally, they develop a sense of loyalty and will do anything to keep that status. Employee allegiance is one of the most critical factors in retention and it often means that workers will perform at a high level.

“Herb loved to tell a story about being on an elevator with the CEO of another company who didn’t even acknowledge two employees who got on the elevator with them,” the Freibergs write. “When the CEO asked Herb how he could create a Southwest-like culture, Herb said, ‘You might start by saying ‘Hello’ to your people.’

This is a classic example of not letting your ego get the best of you. Someone at an executive level should never ignore another employee. This just breeds resentment and leads to failure.

Finally, anyone who has a business has tough decisions to make on a daily basis. Sometimes, these decisions don’t make others happy. While making difficult choices is the nature of the game, there is no need to be mean to others. Be tough and stand your ground, but treating others nastily will get you nowhere fast. Treat everyone with kindness and respect and the rewards to your business will be immeasurable.

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