Being a better leader. Is it beneath you? Part II

Herb Kelleher, Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Southwest Airlines


In my last post we talked about how Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly was asked by “The Advantage” (see below) author Patrick Lencioni, “Why in the world don’t your competitors do any of this?” , when it comes to Southwest’s creative and fun approach to the airline business.

Kelly responded in a whisper to Lencioni, almost sadly, “You know, I honestly believe they think it is beneath them.”

Herb Kelleher is a founder of Southwest Airlines and served as executive chairman from March 1978 to May 2008 and as president and CEO from September 1981 through June 2001. Several years ago I was attending a conference at which Kelleher was scheduled to speak at a luncheon. A group of colleagues and I decided to show up to the luncheon an hour early to catch up and say hello.

As we sat and talked, Kelleher walked into the ballroom to do a sound check. We called to him to join us. He could have walked passed, too self-important to stop and chat. Instead he came right over, joked with us and asked if we flew his airline.

When I told Kelleher that not only was I a fan of Southwest, I had also just convinced my sister to fly with them, he suggested I tell her to never fly another airline again. I called my sister on my cellphone and suggested he tell her himself.

Kelleher took the phone and left my sister a voicemail telling her if she ever flew another airline again, he would personally track her down.

Was it beneath Kelleher to come over and talk to our group? Was it beneath him to leave a phone message for a new customer? No, it was not. Nor was it beneath him to serve peanuts as he flew to the speaking engagement on a Southwest plane, which he mentioned during his speech.

Leading by example, having a sense of humor and providing customer service was not beneath a founder of one of the most successful American companies in an industry not known for these traits. Imagine what your work day would be like if you were that type of leader.

Do you have examples of leaders that lead by example, with humor and show their human side? Who are they and what makes them do it? Why does it seem below others to be that same type of leader?

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