A legendary CEO, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, passed away last week. Many articles have already been written memorializing him, including this one by Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review and this one by our friend Mark Graban, but I’d like to reinforce a couple attributes that are important to me.
The key to Kelleher’s success was his focus on people – customers, employees, and suppliers. He epitomized the “respect for people” (or “human nature“) pillar of lean and demonstrated how effective and powerful humble, authentic, and empathetic leadership can be. Bill writes,
As I take stock of his life and legacy, what strikes me is how much all of us can learn from what he created and how he led—that you can create vast economic value based on genuine and generous human values, why what you hope to achieve in the marketplace must be reflected in what you build in the workplace, how in an age of disruption and transformation, simplicity and consistency matter most.
Southwest’s mission was to “democratize the skies” by making it easy and affordable for everyone to fly. Kelleher and Southwest succeeded, and to this day reinforces this mission by eschewing tactics such as charging for carry on baggage. Kelleher viewed corporate rules as guideposts, but not walls, and encouraged his employees to “serve the customer regardless of what the rules were.”
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