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 co-founder, died on the age of 87. Sadly, we misplaced a good friend and a mentor, as did numerous others.

Herb was repeatedly voted as one of the best CEO within the airline trade. And Fortune journal famous, “Kelleher was maybe one of the best CEO in America.” Herb has been known as a pioneer, fierce competitor and innovator. All of these labels ring true, however Herb was greater than that.

He modified the world.

Herb and the individuals 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 companies everywhere in the globe attempt to emulate.

Herb performed the sport of life full throttle. One of probably the most passionate individuals 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 attention-grabbing dialog with anybody, wherever about something.

For virtually 30 years we have 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 passionate people to come to work fully awake, fully engaged, firing on all cylinders because they know they are doing epic work?” What for those who might create a tradition that evokes passionate individuals to return to work totally engaged, firing on all cylinders?

Herb did it.

Southwest turned a beacon on a hill. Herb and the individuals of Southwest Airlines confirmed us that it’s doable to like individuals (staff and clients alike), have enjoyable and generate profits concurrently. Herb by no means believed that the self-discipline essential to run an on-time airline with implausible service was mutually unique with treating individuals 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 indicate for it.

A good friend 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 dwell an epic life. He was a powerful storyteller. Animated, emotional and normally informed 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 compellingand so cherished.

1. Be Interested

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

The purpose the individuals of Southwest Airlines have such a robust affection for Herb Kelleher is fairly easy. First, he was an unimaginable listener. When you had been with Herb, he was 100% all therecompletely engaged. He made you are feeling such as you had been an important individual on the planet at 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 continually showered the individuals 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 cherished them as individuals, not simply staff. 

2. Be Approachable

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

AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma

Herb by no means met somebody he could not study from. He had a phenomenal knack for disarming you together with his wit and self-effacing humor after which drawing you right into a dialog that made you are feeling goodas if your concepts had been good and worthy.

three. Look Beyond Title And Status

Herb didn’t see a distinction at school, ethnicity or title when coping with individuals. At a really early age, he realized from his mom—whom he revered tremendously—that titles and positions are simply adornments that signify nothing. They don’t characterize 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 a neighborhood 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 individual and each job is price as a lot as every other individual and every other job.”

Herb deplored the category mentality. Years in the past, certainly one of his government 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, Herb mentioned, “I can explain that to you very easily, they’re more important than you are!”

four. Hire For Attitude, Train For Skill

Herb understood that you would be able to’t construct a terrific firm with out nice individuals. If you are an altruistic, outgoing one who enjoys serving others, and is team-oriented, you most likely have what it takes to work at Southwest. If doing issues for different individuals 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 vice chairman of the People Department went to Herb apprehensive that submitting a selected 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. Herb’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. Herb made no apologies. He defined that a part of the explanation for an worker’s probationary interval is to find out if she or he is genuinely appropriate with Southwest’s tradition. If they do not match, it doesn’t suggest there’s something flawed with the individual; it means they don’t seem to be a match. Over the years, staff have written to Herb and mentioned, “Hey, I obtained terminated or placed on probation for purely subjective causes.” Herb would reply, “Right! Those are the important reasons.” “Very often the most valuable things in life aren’t quantifiable,” he mentioned. “Let’s stop trying to be little scientists and putting everything in a little box and weighing and measuring it.” 

5. Put Employees First, Customers Second

Herb believed that staff needs to be handled like clients and celebrated for going above and past the decision of responsibility. He defined it like this, “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 method works. Southwest has been acknowledged for the most efficient workforce and one of the best customer support scores within the trade which suggests it will probably flip extra planes, quicker, with fewer individuals, and higher service.

6. 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 completely different teams throughout the firm and an us versus them mentality. He believed that when you have got people who find themselves liable to level fingers or who lack empathy for the wants of their co-workers you’ve got obtained vital issues. Herb was fast to indicate individuals 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 said, ‘Oh, are you not a part of Southwest Airlines anymore? Excuse me I didn’t realize you’d split off. Have we notified the SEC?'”

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

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

7. Be Yourself. Allow People To Be Themselves.

Regarding persona and elegance, Herb wasn’t prescriptive about how staff ought to behave on the job. People at Southwest are inspired to precise 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…and look like you’re a bunch of little lead soldiers stamped out of a mold. We give people license to be themselves.” Herb understood liberated spirit is important to the type of creativeness and innovation Southwest seeks from its individuals.

eight. Be Trustworthy

Herb cultivated a degree of belief together with his staff and between administration and Southwest’s unions that’s unprecedented within the trade. In 1995 Herb and his group negotiated a historic contract with the pilot’s union. The settlement amounted to a five-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 instances. This settlement was consummated when Southwest was sturdy and worthwhile.

Photo: Mike Fuentes/Bloomberg NewsBLOOMBERG NEWS

At one level through the preliminary negotiations, Herb urged that the variety of inventory choices that the pilots needed was too low. Herb knew that it would not be pretty much as good of a deal for the pilots in the long term. He urged they ask for extra. Unlike many enterprise leaders, he wasn’t going to make the most of the scenario and signal a contract that he did not suppose was honest. After the deal had been negotiated, Herb went to the pilots and mentioned, “what’s good for you is good for me as well” and froze his wages too.

9. Leave Your Ego At 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 alternative places of work that goes on in organizations. Consistent together with his egalitarian spirit, it despatched a message that the group is extra vital than the person. So, who will get the room with one of the best view at Southwest’s common workplace? Everyone, as a result of it’s the cafeteria which overlooks runway 13R at Love Field. Why not make one of the best view within the constructing the place the place staff collect probably the most?

10. Be Irreverent

This does not sound like a method applicable for enterprise. Or does it? Irreverence can promote a wholesome degree of impartial pondering. It encourages individuals to problem the established order, query deeply-held assumptions and never settle for issues at face worth. Many years in the past, when Southwest had closets on the airplanes, Herb tried to hold a coat up within the flight attendants’ closet. The flight attendant, not realizing who Herb was, requested him to maneuver it. When Herb tried to elucidate 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.

Photo: Southwest Airlines

11. Be Tough But Not Mean

Anyone who has ever competed towards 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 for those who’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 primarily informed his managers, “Be tough, have high expectations and encourage your people to dig deeper and reach higher, but “mean” will get you fired.

12. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

In 1999 Herb underwent radiation therapy for prostate most cancers. It did not sluggish him down although; he labored proper by way of the therapies. In light-hearted Kelleher trend, 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. Herb responded, “No, however I’m very involved about my uneven tan line!”

Herb even introduced his humorousness to the hospital and examined his docs. “One day I walked into the examination room with a lighted cigarette,” he mentioned, like somewhat boy with a mischievous grin. “I simply needed to see what would occur. They went berserk. They mentioned, ‘You can’t do this! Put that out!’ And I mentioned, ‘I don’t have wherever to place it out. If you desire a smoker to place out cigarettes, you should have ashtrays. You need me to place it out on the ground?’ They laughed and mentioned, ‘Get out of here!’”

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

13. 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 individuals of Southwest Airlines. Ask Vickie Shuler, Herb’s government assistant of 30 years, and she is going to inform you 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 help that assertion is yet 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.”

14. Cultivate A Warrior Spirit

Herb veraciously devoured books on warfare historical past. He was enamored with the battle methods of nice navy leaders. And it is not simply because the sport plans and techniques of well-known generals make for good after-dinner dialog over a glass of Wild Turkey. It is as a result of Herb was frequently fascinated with how he might apply the issues he realized from the nice warriors within the present situations Southwest confronted. “I love battles,” he mentioned. “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 Herb 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 obtained off the bottom. Since that point, each time Southwest has been beneath assault from a competitor the staff have at all times ralliedusually decked out in camouflage and fatigues.

With the help of Ad Agency GSD&M, Herb confirmed a aptitude for inventive advertising. When Braniff tried to drive Southwest out of enterprise in a fare warfare, Herb supplied a fifth of liquor to anybody who purchased a full-fare Southwest ticket. The tactic appealed to enterprise vacationers with expense accounts who might purchase a ticket on their firm’s dime and take house the booze. For a brief interval, Southwest turned the largest liquor distributor in Texas.

Photo: Southwest Airlines

15. Forget Strategic Planning

Herb did not suppose a lot of conventional strategic planning. His well-known line was, “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” He believed plan articulated in an enormous, 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 available in the market, it’s essential to be capable of spring into motion. If you must 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 perhaps weeks earlier than appearing, the chance could also be gone.

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

16. Manage In The Good Times To Protect The Company In The Bad Times

This is one other approach of claiming, “No matter how good things are, you can never get cocky and overspend.” Given Herb’s persona and the wacky advertising campaigns Southwest has employed through the years, many individuals suppose that the corporate is flamboyant. And, from a advertising perspective, they’re. But financially, Southwest could also be probably the most conservative airways within the enterprise. Herb, who deplored debt, noticed to it that the corporate by no means overextended itself. Southwest might’ve grown a lot quicker over the past 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 obtained very severe and responded, “My vision is to keep Southwest Airlines job-secure for our people.” It is exceptional to suppose that as much as the time of Herb’s passing, Southwest has by no means had a furlough or layoff.

17. Be Decisive, Move With Speed And Agility

Herb felt that there isn’t any good information. You’ll by no means have sufficient knowledge to ensure success. Endless planning, examine and “chewing the cud” over a big choice is one other approach of hiding, of avoiding threat. When your main capital asset travels at 500 mph, you will be virtually wherever quick. Southwest is lean and light-footed. It has proved again and again that it will probably reply with a way of urgency to home windows of alternative that open and shut in a short time.

Herb subscribed to the prepared, hearth, intention method as a result of for those who spend an excessive amount of time aiming it’s possible you’ll by no means get to fireplace. He mentioned, “When USAir announced it was pulling out of six cities in California, I got on the phone and said, ‘Get out there.’ I called our properties department and told them to get busy getting those gates…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…if you don’t do it, someone else is going to!’”

What makes this work are staff who’re inspired to make selections on the native degree realizing that in the event that they make a mistake, they will not get crucified emotionally or lose their jobs. Fear of failure constipates a corporation and slows issues down. Freedom is the important thing to creating issues occur quick.

18. Culture Is The Boss.

If you requested Herb about Southwest’s distinctive tradition, he would inform you that it merely began with treating individuals the way in which he needed 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 individuals. 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,” he said. “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 Globe requested about life after Herb at Southwest Airlines, Herb 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 can surmount a great deal.” Even together with his bigger-than-life persona, Herb believed that the tradition is infinitely greater than anyone individual, tradition is the boss.

19. Define The Business As A Cause

The individuals of Southwest Airlines imagine that their work is greater than only a job, it’s a trigger or a campaign. They give strange individuals 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 dad and mom are separated, or the entrepreneur who needs to increase her enterprise into a number of cities.

Why do the individuals of Southwest imagine this? Because Herb gave them a direct line-of-sight from their each day contributions to a noble, heroic trigger.

Thus, the ramp brokers know that when on-time efficiency suffers habitually, extra planes have to be added to the system to take care of the schedule. The capital to amass these planes will come from greater fares, and that is an affront to the enterprise of freedom. It hurts the airline. It jeopardizes job safety. But most vital, it hurts the buyer. And with the individuals of Southwest that turns into private. Herb 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.”

20. Herb’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 is within the customer support enterprise and occurs to be an airline. If you are within the airline enterprise you do what different airways do; solely you do it higher. If you are 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 lifeless for those who use a cattle-car method to boarding passengers and do not provide first-class, Southwest affords no first-class seating. It seats clients on a first-come-first-served foundation. While different carriers assumed that folks would by no means fly for those who do not present 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 deal with to graduates on the McCombs School of Business on the University of Texas, Herb 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.”

Godspeed Herbie. Your mark is profound, and also you stored us laughing the whole time. The world is best for having you in it.

Save a Wild Turkey for us. We miss you!



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