Small Business Leadership Lessons from Southwest Airlines

“Being a leader is about character… being straightforward and honest, having integrity, and treating People right.” – Gary Kelly, CEO & Chairman, Southwest Airlines

Last week I had the honor of being one of 10 business owners selected to fly to Dallas for an all-day immersion experience with Southwest leadership members. (Disclaimer: I was a huge fan of Southwest before this trip. After eight hours of meetings, I am an even bigger fan.)

A few facts about Southwest:

  1. Profitable every year since it was founded 46 years ago
  2. Has an internal customer care department whose sole purpose is outreach to employees during times of grief, sickness and other hardships
  3. HR mantra: “Hire for Attitude, Develop for Aptitude”
  4. In the top 10 for “most admired U.S. companies”
  5. 3% employee attrition rate

Today’s post is not about sales. It is about leadership. The recurring theme throughout our visit was this: Southwest is a firm believer that treating their employees in a dignified and respectful manner is what fosters great customer service and annual returns to their shareholders.

What I learned:

  1. Great leadership is a mentality, not an act (refer to quote above).
  2. Your SECRET SAUCE should be your employee base, not your product/service.
  3. Give your employees an opportunity to embrace their creative passion (you see and hear this when you take a Southwest flight: singing, dancing, magic tricks, jokes). It makes the customer experience unique.

The bar for great customer service and employee treatment in America, unfortunately, is low. It is great to see companies like Southwest not subscribe to such low expectations. They continue to push the conversation on why doing what’s right, when facing adversity, will always yield long-term positive results.

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