Southwest Airlines are notorious for freeing up their people to release their creativity and initiative. They first came to my attention through the FISH Leaders dvd and workshop manual. On that dvd Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, stated that he “never had it and doesn’t want it” when asked about leadership and his control over people. They also led their people through principles rather than proscriptive rules and regulations. Employees were empowered to make decisions and act so long as it was in the interest of the customer. That’s not to say that some actions may not be corrected but the employee wouldn’t be shot. This led to an outpouring of creativity and engagement. It seems that this culture is pervasive and has endured (indeed thrived) beyond Herb’s tenure as CEO and President.
Jim Parker was CEO of Southwest Airlines during and after September 11th. Some of Southwest’s accomplishments during this very difficult time include:
- Only airline not to furlough employees after 9/11
- Only airline not to borrow money from the US Government’s guaranteed loan program
- Only airline to not cut employee salaries after 9/11
- Only airline to offer unconditional “no questions asked refunds” after 9/11
- Ultimately led Southwest to a market capitalization greater than the sum of the other airlines combined.
During Parker’s tenure as CEO, Southwest Airlines was named one of America’s three most admired companies, one of America’s 100 best corporate citizens, one of the world’s most socially responsible companies, and worldwide airline of the year. This is an impressive list of accolades, especially given the challenges facing aviation.
Here is a video of some Southwest Airlines staff doing what they do. Can you imagine a Qantas flight attendant receiving a round of applause after their pre-flight announcement?