Leadership in Southwest Airlines

Essay by kiteUniversity, Bachelor'sA, October 2006

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Leadership is the process of transforming organizations from what they are to what the leader would have them become. Successful leaders must recognize three interdependent activities: Determining a direction, designing the organization, nurturing a culture dedicated to excellence and ethical behavior.

SWA's leadership role is played by its founder, Herb Kelleher. Kelleher is not just a manager, he is an extraordinary leader. Managers think incrementally, while leaders think radically. "Managers do things right, while leaders do the right thing (Pascale, 1990, p. 65)." A leader is more emotional than a manager. "Leaders stand out by being different. They question assumption and are suspicious of tradition. They seek out the truth and make decisions based on fact, not prejudice. They have a preference for innovation (Fenton, 1990, p. 113).

SWA leadership is focused on keeping operations simple, efficient and inexpensive. Organization of SWA is described as an upside-down pyramid. The top management is at the bottom and supports the front line employees who are the experts.

This is Kelleher's unconventional leadership style, in which management decisions are made by everyone in the organization, not just the head executives. Employees are having fully commitments to do the job. Such as the simple and functional ticket machines were designed by SWA members at their spare time. Also, the strategies such as settled short haul, high-frequency, point-to-point, and low-fare air transportation service were very successful in the airline field. SWA strategies based on one simple notion: to get passengers to their destinations when they want to get there on time at the lowest fares, and have a good time, people will pleased to choose SWA.

Kelleher's leadership style was combination of thriftiness and humor. He was a highly visible leader whose 16-hour workdays and unflagging energy set an example for other employees. Southwest...