Gary Kelly is one of the most influential corporate honchos in America. The Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Southwest Airlines, has been hailed time and again for his leadership and what he has achieved over the nine years at the helm and over two and a half decades at the company. The Gary Kelly leadership style has probably become as popular as the low fares of his airlines.
Gary Kelly is fond of his company, his passengers and all the people he works with. That is one reason why there is so much fondness around. If you happen to hop onto a Southwest Airlines flight, you will find genuinely satiated flight attendants, not those with fake smiles but ones who are truly happy, at least with their jobs. Satisfaction at the job doesn’t just come from the pay check or the profile one has but also from the ambience one is working in and how they are treated by the company, from top to bottom. Gary Kelly leadership style stands out because of the empathy he has in his approach. This is something he had learnt from his father and his predecessor, the founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, who were both empathetic in their lives and in their work.
The other factor in Gary Kelly leadership style that makes it stand out is the moral values that he has been able to inculcate and retain in the entire company. He was not the person to inculcate such values, it was Herb Kelleher, but he had them in him and he wanted the company to retain them as well. Whether it is deciding that passengers would not have to change their seats for their bags or it is about being fair at the workplace to all and sundry, it is this approach of Gary Kelly that makes his staffs comfortable, his passengers happy and him a delight for the shareholders.
Despite the recessions, the bad days and all the glooms, Southwest Airlines remains to be the largest low cost carrier in the world, not just in America, and it takes a lot of magical charisma to pull off such a feat through the last decade. It is not debatable that Gary Kelly leadership style plays a pivotal role in the company’s success and the retention of the employees but what can be only guessed is the magnitude of impact he has trickling down all the way to the junior-most executives and support staffs.