20 Reasons Why Herb Kelleher Was One Of The Most Beloved Leaders Of Our Time


Yesterday, the world misplaced an American icon and a maverick within the airline trade. Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines’ affable cofounder died on the age of 87. Sadly, we misplaced a buddy and a mentor, as did numerous others.

Repeatedly voted as the perfect CEO within the airline trade. And in keeping with Fortune journal, which persistently acknowledges Southwest among the many world’s high 10 most admired corporations, Fortune famous, “Kelleher was maybe the perfect CEO in America.” Herb has been referred to as a pioneer, fierce competitor and innovator. All of these labels ring true, however Kelleher was greater than that.

He modified the world.

Herb and the folks of Southwest Airlines created the best success story within the historical past of business aviation. They did it with a disruptive enterprise mannequin and a hard-to-replicate tradition that enterprise colleges tout in case research and airways and enterprise all around the globe attempt to emulate.

Herb performed the sport of life full throttle. One of probably the most passionate folks we’ve ever identified, he had a zest for all times, an indefatigable spirit, a contagious humorousness, a servant’s coronary heart and an mental acumen that allowed him to carry an fascinating dialog with anybody, wherever about something.

For virtually 30 years we’ve been asking, “What if you could build a company that is as human as the human beings in it? What if you could create a culture that inspires impassioned people to come to work fully-awake, fully-engaged, firing on all cylinders because they know they are doing epic work?”  What if you happen to may create a tradition that evokes impassioned folks to come back to work fully-engaged, firing on all cylinders?

Herb did it.

Southwest grew to become a beacon on a hill. Kelleher and the folks of Southwest Airlines confirmed us that it’s attainable to like folks (workers and prospects alike), have enjoyable and become profitable concurrently. Herb by no means believed that the self-discipline essential to run an on-time airline with unprecedented service was mutually unique with treating folks like household and making work enjoyable. He mentioned, “I’d rather have a company bound by love than a company bound by fear.” Southwest has 46 consecutive years of profitability to point out for it.

A buddy since 1986, nobody has taught us extra about enterprise or extra considerably formed our views about management than Herb Kelleher. He is an instance of what it means to do epic work and stay an epic life. He was an impressive storyteller. Animated, emotional and at all times instructed nose-to-nose, Herb’s tales had been entertaining, partaking, unforgettable, and at all times riddled with classes about enterprise and life.

Here are 20 issues that solely start to scratch the floor of the way in which this gifted chief lived his life. They provide some perception into why Herb was so effective–so revered, preferred and so liked.

1. Be Interested.

The camaraderie between Herb and the staff at Southwest Airlines was outstanding. Many years in the past, on Bosses Day, 16,000 workers of Southwest Airlines chipped in to buy a full-page advert in USA Today to specific their affection for the boss. They thanked Herb for serving to load baggage on Thanksgiving, singing on the vacation get together and singing solely every year, letting them put on shorts and sneakers to work, being a buddy, not only a boss, and remembering each one in all their names.

The cause the folks of Southwest Airlines have such a powerful affection for Herb Kelleher is fairly easy. It boils down to 2 issues. First, he was an unimaginable listener. When you had been with Herb he was 100% all there–totally engaged. He made you’re feeling such as you had been crucial particular person on this planet in that second, and to him you had been.

Second, break down his speeches, annual report letters, annual messages to the sphere and one-on-one conversations behind closed doorways. You will discover that he always showered the folks of Southwest with gratitude as a result of that is the way in which he felt. He handled them with dignity and respect. He empathized with their failures and grief. He celebrated their victories. And, he confirmed them how a lot he admired them, valued them and liked them as folks first, not simply staff. 

2. Be Approachable.

Kelleher had an uncanny skill to recollect names. Many workers at Southwest would confirm that they met Herb as soon as, met him once more a 12 months later and he remembered their title. When he was launched to somebody he cared sufficient to find out about them. Herb liked to inform a narrative about being on an elevator with the CEO of one other firm who didn’t even acknowledge two workers who acquired on the elevator with them. When the CEO requested Herb how he may create a Southwest-like tradition, Herb mentioned, “You might start by saying ‘Hello’ to your people.”

Herb by no means met somebody he could not be taught from. He had an attractive knack for disarming you along with his wit and self-effacing humor after which drawing you right into a dialog that made you’re feeling smart–as although your concepts had been good and worthy.

  1. Look Beyond Title and Status.

Herb didn’t see a distinction at school, ethnicity or title when coping with folks. At a really early age he realized from his mom—whom he revered enormously—that titles and positions are simply adornments that signify nothing. They don’t signify the substance of anyone. “I learned firsthand that what she was telling me was correct,” Herb as soon as mentioned. “There was a really dignified gentleman in our neighborhood, the president of an area financial savings and mortgage, who used to walk alongside in a really regal approach up till he was indicted and convicted of embezzlement. She taught me that each particular person and each job is value as a lot as every other particular person and every other job.”

Herb deplored the category mentality. Years in the past, one in all his govt officers mentioned, “Herb, it’s harder for me to get in to see you than it is for a mechanic, a pilot, a flight attendant, or a reservations agent.” Half-jokingly, Kelleher mentioned, “I can explain that to you very easily, they’re more important than you are!”

  1. Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill.

Herb understood that you would be able to’t construct an amazing firm with out nice folks. If you’re an altruistic, outgoing one who enjoys serving others, and is team-oriented you in all probability have what it takes to work at Southwest. If doing issues for different folks is the way in which you ennoble your self as an alternative of doing issues for your self, you match the Southwest tradition.

Once, the vp of the People Department went to Kelleher fearful that submitting a specific job was taking too lengthy and costing an excessive amount of. She was considerably embarrassed that she had interviewed 34 candidates for a Ramp Agent place in Amarillo, Texas. Kelleher’s response was, “If you have to interview 134 people to get the right attitude on the ramp in Amarillo, Texas, do it.”

If hiring for perspective appears considerably subjective, it’s. Kelleher made no apologies. He defined that a part of the rationale for an worker’s probationary interval is to find out if she or he is really suitable with Southwest’s tradition. If they don’t match, it doesn’t imply there may be something mistaken with the particular person, it means there’s simply not a match.

“People will write me and complain, ‘Hey, I got terminated or put on probation for purely subjective reasons,’ Herb explains, “And I’ll say, ‘Right! Those are the important reasons.’ Very often the most valuable things in life aren’t quantifiable. Let’s stop trying to be little scientists and putting everything in a little box and weighing and measuring it.”

  1. Put Employees First, Customers Second.

Kelleher believed that workers needs to be handled like prospects and celebrated for going above and past the decision of responsibility.

“In business school they’d say, ‘This is a real conundrum: Who comes first, your employees, your shareholders, or your customers?’ My mother taught me that your employees come first. If you treat them well, then they treat the customers well, and that means your customers come back and your shareholders are happy.”

Apparently, this strategy works. Southwest has been acknowledged for the most efficient workforce and the perfect customer support scores within the trade which suggests it will possibly flip extra planes, sooner, with fewer folks, and higher service.

  1. Jettison Tribalism and Office Politics.

Herb felt that tribalism is the lethal opponent of teamwork. He didn’t discuss labor-management relationships at Southwest as a result of these labels arrange two totally different teams inside the firm and an us versus them mentality. He believed that when you may have people who find themselves liable to pointing fingers or who lack empathy for the wants of their co-workers you’ve acquired vital issues. Herb was fast to point out folks how their language displays a tribal mentality. “A guy said to me the other day, ‘In my department…’” Herb as soon as laughed, “And I mentioned, ‘Oh, are you not part of Southwest Airlines anymore? Excuse me I didn’t understand you’d break up off. Have we notified the SEC?’”

Under Kelleher’s management Southwest instituted a “Walk-A-Mile” program. It was about creating empathy and a deeper understanding of the pressures individuals are below in different jobs. For instance, pilots dressed as ramp brokers, loaded baggage for a few days and realized how onerous that job actually is. Herb mentioned,

“The real goal is for our employees to spend time with other employee groups in order to gain a deep appreciation for the challenges that others face daily. This provides a broader understanding of the issues that arise with other work groups, and it encourages tolerance, patience, and greater cooperation between work groups.”

Photo: Laura Buckman/© 2017 Bloomberg Finance LP© 2017 Bloomberg Finance LP

  1. Be Yourself. Allow People to be Themselves.

In phrases of character and magnificence, Herb wasn’t prescriptive about how workers ought to behave on the job. People at Southwest are literally inspired to specific their individuality. His philosophy was, in the event that they need to inform jokes they will. If they need to be inventive they are often. If they need to play pranks on their co-workers they will.

“We’ve never thought that you should have to come to work and assume a mask, be different from who you really are, and look like you’re a bunch of little lead soldiers stamped out of a mold. We give people license to be themselves. We give people the opportunity to be mavericks and people respond to that.”

Kelleher believed that the work setting is much more fascinating when folks have the liberty to be themselves. He additionally understood liberated spirit is totally important to the type of creativeness and innovation Southwest seeks from its folks.

  1. Be Trustworthy.

Herb cultivated a degree of belief along with his workers and between administration and Southwest’s unions that’s unprecedented within the trade. In 1995 Kelleher and his workforce negotiated a historic contract with the pilot’s union. The settlement amounted to a 5 year-wage freeze for 10-year inventory choices. Many airways have requested for wage concessions, however normally as a matter of survival in tough financial occasions. This settlement was consummated when Southwest was sturdy and worthwhile.

Photo: Mike Fuentes/Bloomberg NewsBLOOMBERG NEWS

At one level through the preliminary negotiations Kelleher instructed that the variety of inventory choices that the pilots wished was too low. He instructed they ask for a rise. Herb knew that it wouldn’t be nearly as good of deal for the pilots in the long term. Unlike many enterprise leaders he wasn’t going to reap the benefits of the scenario and signal a contract that he didn’t assume was truthful. After the deal had been negotiated, Kelleher went to the pilots and mentioned, “what’s good for you is good for me as well” and froze his personal wages too.

  1. Leave Your Ego on the Door.

As lengthy as we’ve identified Herb, he at all times selected to have an workplace with out home windows. He believed that it eradicated the jockeying for selection workplaces that goes on in organizations. Consistent along with his egalitarian spirit, it despatched a message that the workforce is extra essential than the person. So, who will get the room with the perfect view at Southwest’s General Office? Everyone, as a result of it’s the cafeteria which overlooks runway 13R at Love Field. Why not make the perfect view within the constructing the place the place workers collect probably the most?

  1. Be Irreverent.

This doesn’t sound like a technique applicable for enterprise. Or does it? Irreverence can promote a wholesome degree of unbiased pondering. It encourages folks to problem the established order, query deeply-held assumptions and never settle for issues at face worth. Many years in the past, when Southwest truly had closets on the airplanes, Herb tried to hold a coat up within the flight attendants’ closet. The flight attendant, not understanding who Herb was, requested him to maneuver it. When Kelleher tried to clarify that it was okay and he was Southwest’s chairman, the flight attendant replied, “Yes, and I am the King of Siam.” Herb promptly eliminated his coat and put within the applicable spot.

  1. Be Tough however Not Mean.

Anyone who has ever competed in opposition to or labored with Herb Kelleher is aware of he may very well be robust. How do you run an on-time airline with strict accountability and superior efficiency if you happen to’re not robust? But Herb felt there’s a distinction between being robust and being imply. Mean is dehumanizing, shaming and belittling.  Mean creates a fear-based tradition and sucks the life out of individuals. Herb basically instructed his managers, “Be tough, have high expectations and encourage your people to dig deeper and reach higher, but “mean” will get you fired.

  1. Don’t take Yourself Too Seriously.

In 1999 Herb underwent radiation remedy for prostate most cancers. It didn’t gradual him down although, he labored proper by way of the therapies. In light-hearted Kelleher vogue he mentioned, “I wish it was called the M.D. Andersen Acne Center or the M.D. Andersen Hemorrhoid Center, but it isn’t. On a conference call with Wall Street’s financial community one of the analysts asked Herb if the radiation treatments impaired his ability to run the company in any way. Kelleher responded, “No, but I am very concerned about my uneven tan line!”

Herb even introduced his humorousness to the hospital and examined his docs. Like a little bit boy with a mischievous grin he mentioned,

“One day I walked into the exam room with a lighted cigarette. I just wanted to see what would happen. They went berserk. They said, ‘You can’t do that! Put that out!’ And I said, ‘I don’t have anywhere to put it out. If you want a smoker to put out cigarettes, you ought to have ashtrays. You want me to put it out on the floor?’ They laughed and said, ‘Get out of here!’”

Herb believed that you did not have to be boring to achieve success. Just to point out you ways a lot enjoyable he had being a part of Southwest Airlines, try these must-see video clips:

 
 

  1. Spend Time on What You Value.

Thousands of requests for talking engagements, presidential commissions, legislative points, and enterprise conferences associated to the airline trade all vied for Herb Kelleher’s time. But Herb’s priorities had been at all times the folks of Southwest Airlines. Ask Vickie Shuler, Herb’s govt assistant of 30 years, and she is going to let you know that Herb wouldn’t change his schedule if a enterprise assembly got here up that interfered with an worker occasion he promised to attend.

If you need to know what somebody actually values watch the way in which they spend their cash and their time. It’s straightforward for executives to say “people are our most important asset,” however reallocating their time to assist that assertion is one more story. During the filming of a customer support video, Tom Peters requested Herb what recommendation he would give different executives. Herb mentioned, “Stop spending so much time with other CEOs, spend more time with your people.”

  1. Cultivate a Warrior Spirit.

Herb veraciously devoured books on battle historical past. He was enamored with the battle methods of nice army leaders. And it’s not simply because the methods and ways of well-known generals makes for good after-dinner dialog over a glass of Wild Turkey. It is as a result of Herb was always fascinated by how he may apply the issues he realized from the good warriors within the present situations Southwest confronted. He mentioned,

“I love battles. I think it’s part of the Irish in me. Patton said, ‘War is hell, and I love it so.’ That’s how I feel. I’ve never gotten tired of fighting. For the past 35 years my job has been helping Southwest Airlines get through one battle after another.”

Southwest’s early battles shaped the idea for the corporate’s warrior spirit. Three incumbent carriers—Braniff, Continental, and Texas International—drug Kelleher by way of three and a half years of litigation and 42 judicial and authorized proceedings, together with one within the U.S. Supreme Court earlier than Southwest actually acquired off the bottom. Since that point, every time Southwest has been below assault from a competitor the staff have at all times rallied–often decked out in camouflage and fatigues.

With the assist of Ad company GSD&M, Kelleher confirmed a aptitude for inventive advertising and marketing. When Braniff tried to drive Southwest out of enterprise in a fare battle, Kelleher provided a fifth of liquor to anybody who purchased a full-fare Southwest ticket. The tactic appealed to enterprise vacationers with expense accounts who may purchase a ticket on their firm’s dime and take residence the booze. For a brief time period Southwest grew to become the largest liquor distributor in Texas.

  1. Forget Strategic Planning.

Herb didn’t assume a lot of classical strategic planning. His well-known line was, “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” He thought plan articulated in a giant, three-ring binder was too bureaucratic. His view was that when you have a strategic plan that has been authorized by the board and a window of alternative opens out there, you could be capable to spring into motion. If you need to create a brand new plan, polish it up for board approval, run it as much as the board and allow them to debate it for a number of days or even weeks earlier than performing, the chance could also be gone.

Herb most well-liked “future scenario generation” which suggests contemplating the entire attainable, ever-changing situations that might occur and being ready for every one. If primary occurs we do that, if quantity two occurs we try this, and so forth.

  1. Manage within the Good Times to Protect the Company within the Bad Times.

Given Herb’s character and the wacky advertising and marketing campaigns Southwest has employed over time, many individuals assume that the corporate is flamboyant. And, from a advertising and marketing perspective they’re. But financially, Southwest could also be one of the vital conservative airways within the enterprise. Kelleher, who deplored debt, noticed to it that the corporate by no means overextended itself. Southwest may’ve grown a lot sooner during the last 46 years, however as an alternative, the corporate has chosen to pursue a slower, extra methodical growth.

We keep in mind being interviewed with Herb one time when a reporter requested him what his imaginative and prescient was for Southwest within the subsequent ten years. Herb acquired very severe and responded, “My vision is to keep Southwest Airlines job secure for our people.” For Herb, this meant no furloughs and no lay-offs.

  1. Be Decisive, Move with Speed and Agility.

Herb felt that there is no such thing as a excellent data. You’ll by no means have sufficient information to ensure success. Endless planning, research and “chewing the cud” over a serious determination is one other approach of hiding, of avoiding threat. When your main capital asset travels at 500 mph you could be virtually wherever quick. Southwest is lean and light-footed. It has proved again and again that it will possibly reply with a way of urgency to home windows of alternative that open and shut in a short time.

Herb subscribed to the prepared, fireplace, goal strategy as a result of if you happen to spend an excessive amount of time aiming you could by no means get to fireplace. He mentioned,

“You have to strike quickly and with blinding speed. When US Airways announced it was pulling out of six cities in California, I got on the phone and I said, ‘Get out there, get extra airplanes, get extra gates.’ I called our properties department and told them to get busy getting those gates lickety-split because they’d only be available for a nanosecond. I called finance and said we probably need five or six airplanes just as soon as we could get them. I said, ‘Scour the market and get some as soon as you can. We’ve got to move. If you don’t do it, someone else is going to!’”

What makes this work are workers who’re inspired to make choices on the native degree understanding that in the event that they make a mistake they gained’t get crucified emotionally or lose their jobs. Fear of failure constipates a company and slows issues down. Freedom is the important thing to creating issues occur quick.

  1. Culture is the Boss.

If you requested Kelleher about Southwest’s distinctive tradition he would let you know that it merely began with treating folks the way in which he wished to be handled and treating them the way in which they deserved to be handled. In different phrases, the tradition of Southwest Airlines emerged out of the personalities of the folks. Herb believed that tradition is integral to Southwest’s success,

“One must realize that we have become what we are today because of that culture. It is a culture that recognizes the value of the individual, which encourages an entrepreneurial spirit, which helps people to find the career that makes them happy, and which encourages people to have fun at work. These are the very reasons for our success.”

When Matthew Brelis of the Boston Sunday Globe requested about life after Herb at Southwest Airlines, Kelleher quipped, “I think it’s hopeless.” Then he laughed and mentioned, “The real answer is we have a very strong culture and it has a life of its own that is able to surmount a great deal.” Even along with his bigger-than-life character, Herb believed that the tradition is infinitely greater than anyone particular person, tradition is the boss.

  1. Define the Business as a Cause.

The folks of Southwest Airlines consider that their work is greater than only a job, it’s a trigger or a campaign. They give unusual folks the liberty to fly and the chance to go, see, and do extraordinary issues. They are within the enterprise of freedom preventing for the grandmother on a restricted revenue, the kid whose mother and father are separated, or the entrepreneur who needs to broaden her enterprise into a number of cities.

Why do the folks of Southwest consider this? Because Herb gave them a direct line-of-sight from their particular person contributions and what they do on a regular basis to a noble, heroic trigger.

Thus, the ramp brokers know that when on-time efficiency suffers habitually, extra planes should be added to the system to take care of the schedule. The capital to accumulate these planes will come from increased fares and that is an affront to the enterprise of freedom. It hurts the airline. It jeopardizes job safety. But most essential, it hurts the patron. And with the folks of Southwest that turns into private. Kelleher mentioned, “If people are really devoted to their company as a cause, a crusade, it leads to higher job satisfaction, greater innovation, and higher productivity.”

  1. Kelleher’s Golden Rule: It’s Okay to Break the Rules.

Herb let his values and his ardour for equity drive Southwest’s working technique; not the conduct of different carriers. He wasn’t afraid to query established methods of doing issues. He mentioned, “Conventional wisdom put a hell of a lot of airlines out of business.”

Herb believed that Southwest was within the customer support enterprise and simply occur to be an airline. If you’re within the airline enterprise you do what different airways do, solely you do it higher. If you’re within the customer support enterprise you redefine the enterprise and subsequently the trade by doing what is smart for the purchasers you serve.

For instance, when different carriers thought the short-haul market was chump change, Southwest developed the area of interest and expanded the market. When different carriers assumed that the one solution to make environment friendly use of an airplane is the hub and spoke system, Herb constructed a point-to-point infrastructure at Southwest Airlines.

While different carriers assumed that your useless if you happen to use a cattle-car strategy to boarding passengers and don’t provide first-class, Southwest presents no first-class seating. It seats prospects on a first-come-first-served foundation. While different carriers assumed that folks won’t ever fly if you happen to don’t provide them a meal, Southwest serves minor snacks. While different carriers thought it was skilled to make gate brokers and flight attendants put on fits, Southwest mentioned, “We want our people to be comfortable.”

An Iconic Legacy

In a graduation handle to graduates on the McCombs School of Business on the University of Texas, Kelleher mentioned, “…our mortality signifies that we have one earthly chance to make a mark—to be remembered—as a leader who accomplished something constructive for humankind.”

God velocity Herbie, your mark is profound and also you stored us laughing the whole time. The world is healthier for having you in it.

Save a Wild Turkey for us. We miss you!



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