Gary C. Kelly's Leadership at Southwest Airlines | Free Essay Example

Gary C. Kelly’s Leadership at Southwest Airlines

Words: 1686
Topic: Business & Economics


Effective leadership is one of the crucial elements that ensure organizational success. Organizations are multifaceted entities that require commitment and truthfulness with regard to management, leadership, and other related undertakings (Bonnici, 2011). Southwest Airlines ranks among organizations that have demonstrated strict adherence to globally accepted elements of effective leadership. It embodies the leadership and management approaches that bolster its overall desire to achieve market leadership and maintain high levels of competitiveness (Bonnici, 2011). Organizational leadership in the contemporary world entails several elements that include an individual’s emotional intelligence, personal awareness, communication skills, and charisma among others. Experts argue that the prolonged success of Southwest Airlines in the contemporary business environment is a manifestation of effective and dynamic leadership within its ranks (Anderson, 2005). The main reason behind its success in diverse areas of engagement is the great leadership of its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Gary C. Kelly.

Background of the CEO

Gary C. Kelly was born in San Antonio, Texas, United States, and is the President, CEO, and Chairman of Board of Directors of Southwest Airlines (Lauer, 2010). He is an alumnus of the University of Texas at Austin and joined the company in 1986. He started off as a controller and worked his way up the company’s leadership structure over the years. In his journey to the top leadership position of the world’s biggest discounted carrier, Kelly served in numerous positions that were crucial in bolstering his leadership skills. He also worked as the company’s Chief Financial Officer and later as the Executive Vice President (Lauer, 2010). He held each of the two positions for three years before being promoted to the position of CEO in 2004. His predecessor, who had held the position for three years, was James Parker. In 2008, Kelly was appointed as the Chairman of the Board of Directors and President of the Southwest Airlines. He replaced Herb Kelleher as the Chairman and Colleen Barrett as the President of the corporation (Lauer, 2010). Kelly has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting, and he is also a Certified Public Accountant. Over the years, he has received numerous awards for his exemplary leadership at the helm of Southwest Airlines. Some of his most notable honors include the best and influential executives in America award and the best CEO in the United States award that he won both in 2008 and 2009 (Lauer, 2010).

Leadership style and philosophy

Experts argue that the leadership style used in every organization plays a crucial role in determining the level of success and productivity achieved. It helps in achieving essential elements of organizational success, such as high employee retention rates, high motivation to work, and an inclusive decision-making process (Bonnici, 2011). Kelly has one of the most effective leadership styles compared to the numerous executives working in the airline industry. His style of leadership has precipitated success for Southwest Airlines and placed him steps ahead of his peers in organizational leadership. Most people who have worked with him say that the dynamic and inclusive nature of his leadership style offers an opportunity for interaction and engagement with employees (Guinto, 2007).

He believes in giving everyone a chance to contribute towards organizational success by participating in the decision-making process and generating innovative ideas. He is very passionate about growth and innovation. He focuses a lot on influencing his employees to be creative in solving various challenges that arise in the workplace. Many people also describe Kelly as a charismatic leader (Riordan, 2013). He has a high level of personal attractiveness that enables him to influence his management team and employees towards giving their best output in achieving organizational goals. He is a very convincing and supportive leader. This aligns well with the carrier’s organizational culture, which focuses on building a happy, relaxed, motivated, and creative workforce (Riordan, 2013). Although the employees had few reservations about Kelly’s leadership style in the beginning, his ability to exhibit dynamism, innovation, and good business acumen gradually made them more appreciative (Guinto, 2007).

Personal and organizational values

Experts argue that personal and organizational values of leaders play a crucial role in accentuating intermittent demand for success, innovation, and high productivity (Bonnici, 2011). The values should be a clear reflection of the organizations they lead in term of goals, values, and culture. Therefore, fusion between personal and organizational values is crucial for success (Anderson, 2005). Having grown in Texas, Kelly was able to acquire and develop good values from a very young age. His close relationship with his father helped him to grow as a person of great morals and high integrity. He learnt the value of relating well with people, respecting their views, and influencing them towards becoming better persons (Guinto, 2007). Throughout his educational journey, Kelly was a highly influential person who always encouraged others to be open minded and to have fun in everything they did. These are the same qualities that he brought with him when he started working at Southwest Airlines (Riordan, 2013). His organizational values at the carrier focus a lot on a strong desire to create an inclusive workplace environment that allows employees to enjoy themselves without compromising the quality of their results (Riordan, 2013).

Influence of Kelly’s values on ethical behavior with Southwest airlines

Studies have established that effective organizational leadership entails having a clear understanding of structural and institutional realities that define an entity (Bonnici, 2011). This includes understanding an organization’s ethical code of conduct and the way a leader should use his or her values to influence employees in a positive manner (Anderson, 2005). Kelly’s individual and organizational values have blended perfectly with the ethical code of conduct at Southwest Airlines. The company’s ethical behavior builds along four key values, namely success, sincerity, equality, and concern for others (Guinto, 2007). It requires all employees to respect each other. Everyone at Southwest Airlines should also show compassion towards colleagues by understanding and sympathizing with anyone having a hard time. Kelly’s Individual and organizational values have played a crucial role in promoting the company’s mission, which is to achieve better service delivery through good employee relations and support for one another.

Kelly has managed to create a highly relaxed, inclusive, and result oriented environment at Southwest Airlines (Riordan, 2013). This has played a crucial role in motivating employees to work, respect each other, and build a successful team that believes in the abilities of individual employees. Experts argue that Kelly has incorporated some of his individual values such as honesty, creativity, open mindedness, and charisma into the organizational culture very effectively (Guinto, 2007). The company’s organizational culture has enabled employees to achieve their goals because they can express themselves well and at the same time have fun from doing their work (Sahoo, 2007).

Strengths and weaknesses

Just like every human being, Kelly has strengths and weaknesses. A positive attitude, good upbringing, and other individual values have made him one of the most effective organizational leaders of the 21st Century. Three strengths that have helped him to achieve this feat are honesty, hard work, and concern for other people (Riordan, 2013). Despite the aforementioned strengths, Kelly also has weaknesses that have created limitations in his work on numerous occasions. Experts argue that every industry has a number of predators and opportunists who always aim to exploit the faults of their competitors (Anderson, 2005). Kelly has not been spared because some people have taken advantage of his weaknesses. Some of his greatest weaknesses include being too nice to people and his inability to articulate the company’s mission in diverse contexts (Guinto, 2007).

The quality that contributes the most to Kelly’s success

Kelly has been successful in the few years that he has been the CEO, President, and Chairman of Board of Directors of Southwest Airlines. He has great individual and organizational values, as well as numerous strengths. However, the main ingredient to his success has been his intelligence (Guinto, 2007). Kelly has managed to effectively use the ability to comprehend the crucial elements of the airline industry to his advantage. His high levels of intelligence also played a crucial role in earning his impressive academic achievements. Experts argue that were it not for his good brainpower, he could not have made it past the position of Chief Financial Officer at Southwest Airlines (Riordan, 2013). This position allowed him to analyze the company’s stability and predict its future. This is the reason Kelly got promoted every three years. He has been the airlines President, CEO, and Chairman for more than five years (Riordan, 2013).

Group dynamics

Through the leadership of Kelly, it quite easy to comprehend the way crucial elements such as communication, collaboration, power, and politics influence on group dynamics in organizations such as Southwest Airlines (Guinto, 2007). At the company, everyone is actively involved in the decision-making process. Communication between employees and their leaders is also part of the corporate culture. The reason for this is that communication plays a crucial role in influencing the success and growth of the company (Sahoo, 2007). The organizational culture at Southwest Airlines embodies the concepts of power and politics, as all employees are encouraged to be very creative when making quick decisions that do not require consultation. There are situations where an employee makes a decision that contradicts the company’s policy for the sake of passengers. Kelly’s willingness to allow employees to make such decisions often motivates them because they feel valued and appreciated (Guinto, 2007). Experts argue that there is a lot that someone can learn about group dynamics from Kelly and his team at Southwest Airlines, especially on the power of effective communication.


Effective leadership is the most important ingredient for organizational success. Organizational leaders should use approaches that reflect values and corporate culture of an entity. In order to achieve success in the 21st Century, it is crucial for leaders to identify their individual values and develop effective strategies for incorporating them into their organizational cultures. This way, it will be possible to communicate and interact well with everyone. There is a lot that one can learn about effective organizational leadership from Garry C. Kelly.


Anderson, M. (2005). The New Airline Code. San Francisco: iUniverse.

Bonnici, C. A. (2011). Creating a Successful Leadership Style: Principles of Personal Strategic Planning. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Guinto, J. (2007). Southwest Airline’s CEO Gary C. Kelly Sets the Carriers New Course. Web.

Lauer, C. (2010). Southwest Airlines. New York: ABC-CLIO.

Riordan, C. (2013). Garry Kelly, Chairman, President and CEO of Southwest Airlines, Talks Success, Culture and Business Approaches. Web.

Sahoo, D. (2007). Book of Answers for a Young CEO. San Francisco: iUniverse.