[email protected] 1 : Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines

There was not a moment of hesitation in choosing the first Honorary Groove Enhancer. One individual stood out miles above the crowd and for good reason.

The inimitable Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines (1931-2019) RIP!

The moment I became an entrepreneur, Herb became my role model. He was the embodiment, in my mind, of the ideal CEO. He LOVED his people, and they LOVED him!

He had a laser-like focus on simplicity, sophistication, fun and above all CULTURE!

One reason I am a lifetime fan of Herb and Southwest Airlines is the commitment to putting their people first.

"My mother taught me that your employees come first. If you treat them well, then they treat the customers well, and that means your customers come back and your shareholders are happy."

The one common denominator of any business with employees is The Team! Regardless of the industry or size of the company once we have a team we are in the People Business.

Herb understood this better than anyone.

He constantly showered the people of Southwest with gratitude because that's the way he felt. He treated them with dignity and respect. He empathized with their failures and grief. He celebrated their victories. And, he showed them how much he admired them, valued them and loved them as people, not just workers.

He encouraged coloring outside the lines and taking risks.

Southwest employees have always been encouraged to be bold, to take action, and to make decisions. With peace of mind knowing that if they make a mistake, they won't get crucified emotionally or lose their jobs.

Herb was proud to say "Fear of failure constipates an organization and slows things down. Freedom is the key to making things happen fast."

He also encouraged People at Southwest to express their individuality.

“We’ve never thought that you should have to come to work and assume a mask and look like you’re a bunch of little lead soldiers stamped out of a mold. We give people license to be themselves.”

Herb cultivated a level of trust with his employees and between management and Southwest's unions unprecedented in the industry.

During negotiations with the Pilots Union, Herb suggested that the number of stock options that the pilots wanted was too low. Herb knew that it wouldn't be as good of a deal for the pilots in the long run. He suggested they ask for more.

Unlike many business leaders, he would not take advantage of the situation and sign a contract that he didn't think was fair. Then, after they had negotiated the deal, Herb went to the pilots and said, "what's good for you is good for me as well" and froze his wages too.

In 1998 Kevin and Jackie Freiberg co-wrote a book called:
NUTS! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success 

(Disclaimer: We earn a commission from qualifying purchases using the link above.)

I have given that book out as a gift to clients, friends and family ever since. It also became the basis for a team of employees in every business I have led that I affectionately call The Culture Club!

More on that later, but in case you were wondering ... YES. I did, occasionally, dress up like Boy George. Like I said, more on that later!

But now back to our Honorary Groove Enhancer.

As the Freibergs described him:

"Herb played the game of life full throttle. One of the most passionate people we have ever known, he had a zest for life, an indefatigable spirit, a contagious sense of humor, a servant’s heart and an intellectual acumen that allowed him to carry an interesting conversation with anyone, anywhere about anything."

Herb’s priorities were always the people of Southwest Airlines.

During the filming of a customer service video, Tom Peters asked Herb what advice he would give other executives. Herb said, “Stop spending so much time with other CEOs, spend more time with your people.”

The people of Southwest Airlines believe that their work is more than just a job, it’s a cause or a crusade. They give ordinary people the freedom to fly and the opportunity to go, see, and do extraordinary things.

And with the people of Southwest, that becomes personal.

Herb said, “If people are really devoted to their company as a cause, a crusade, it leads to higher job satisfaction, greater innovation, and higher productivity.”

Remarkably, but not so surprising given Herb's commitment to his people, to think up to the time of his passing last year:

Southwest has never had a furlough or layoff.

He created a company that became the envy of an entire industry and the business world at large.

One of my favorite Herb quotes: "I'd rather have a company bound by love than a company bound by fear." has become my mantra.

Thanks for being such an inspiring role model Herb!

LUV is definitely in the Air.

@southwestair   @southwestairlines 


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