Print Сite this

Leadership Styles: Garry Kelly in Southwest Airlines


Existing scholarship shows that leaders, through their leadership styles, approaches and practices, have the capacity to positively or negatively influence outcomes for their respective business organizations, employees, customers and stakeholders. Indeed, in the turbulent business environment of the 21st century, many organizations have managed to remain competitive courtesy of effective leadership skills and practices (Gittell, 2005). In this paper, I undertake an analysis of Gary Kelly and Southwest Airlines, the organization he leads, before analyzing the relationship between his leadership style and the health of the organization.

We will write a
custom essay
specifically for you

for only $16.05 $11/page
308 certified writers online
Learn More

Leadership Style Analysis

From the information contained in media reports, I argue that Gary Kelly, the chairman, and CEO of Southwest Airlines, practices servant leadership. The characteristics of servant leadership as listed in Avolio et al (2009) include “listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment, and building community” (p. 436). I draw on existing literature to demonstrate that Gary has made himself a servant of the people if functional attributes of servant leadership (e.g., vision, honesty, trustworthy, service-oriented, appreciation of others and empowerment), as well as accompanying attributes (e.g., good communication between leader and follower, active listening, credibility, competence, encouraging others, mentoring others and delegation of duty), are taken into consideration (Avolio et al., 2009).

From the media reports, I uncover a number of attributes in the CEO’s leadership style that are servant-oriented and fit into the above scope. For instance, the CEO lays much emphasis on the importance of caring for people (employees), puts employees first and listens to their concerns, believes that leadership is more a function of people’s relationships than position, empowers employees and shares with them his vision for the future, and demonstrates genuine concern for subordinates’ career growth and development by providing support and mentoring, along with using actions and words to make it clear to employees that satisfying their work needs is a priority (Hall, 2010; Mouawad, 2010). From these attributes, I contend that the theoretical underpinning of Gary’s style of leadership lies in being a servant first before aspiring to become a leader, otherwise known as servant leadership.

Organization Analysis

Moving on, I contend that Southwest Airlines is the best carrier in the United States going by figures contained in media reports. In 2009, for instance, the airline flew 86 million passengers to destinations across the United States and abroad. Having started as a low-cost carrier, Southwest now operates more flights a day than any other American airline, not mentioning that it owns a fleet of 544 planes, serves 69 domestic cities across the United States, and recently acquired AirTran Airways to expand its business operations when many other airlines were making huge losses in the industry (Mouawad, 2010). Although stakeholders argue that Southwest’s success was built on a signature cocktail of low costs, low fares, regular flights and a sustained expansion into new markets (Mouawad, 2010), I am of the considered opinion that this success continues to be oiled, expanded and sustained through the carrier’s exuberant employees, freewheeling (Fun-LUVing) culture, and top management’s commitment to the growth and wellbeing of employees.

Relationship between Garry’s Leadership Style and Southwest’s Health

There is no doubt in my mind that Garry’s leadership style has contributed substantially to the growth and competitiveness of Southwest Airlines. As a matter of fact, it is easy to draw a correlation between the CEO’s servant leadership practices (e.g., caring for people, leading with a servant heart, putting employees first, listening to employees’ concerns, recognizing and appreciating employees’ efforts, establishing trusting relationships with employees and empowering them to grow) and the vibrant growth of the organization in terms of maintaining record ticket sales, having a large fleet of planes, and recording double-digit growth when other carriers are making huge loses.

Consequently, in my considered opinion, I argue that these leadership attributes have enabled the company to record sustained growth over the years through the establishment of competitive abilities, including strong organizational culture, internalization of the warrior spirit and employee commitment. The central idea of this claim, in my view, rests on the already proved correlation between the type of leadership style and organizational performance (Gittell, 2005).

More than anything else, Garry’s leadership style has enabled employees to identify with the mission and vision of the company and to internalize a perception that they must be successful in whatever they do if Southwest is to remain competitive (Mouawad, 2010). The CEO’s servant leadership style, in my view, is in alignment with Southwest’s corporate culture of having a fun-filled workplace environment, which encourages employees to work as a team with shared goals and objectives and to give their all in assisting the carrier to stay at the top. Consequently, it is correct to argue that the servant leadership approach demonstrated by Gary Kelly has enabled the company to make huge investments on employees, which in turn has positively affected its bottom-line performance and growth through high employee motivation, commitment, and empowerment.

Get your
100% original paper
on any topic

done in as little as
3 hours
Learn More


In view of this exposition, I confidently conclude that there is a positive correlation between Garry’s servant leadership style and the continued growth of Southwest Airlines. In retrospect, it is Garry’s leadership style that continues to motivate employees to give their optimal productivity, hence contributing positively to the performance and competitiveness of the organization.


Avolio, B.J., Walumbwa, F.O., & Weber, T.J. (2009). Leadership: Current theories, research, and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology, 60(1), 421-449. Web.

Gittell, J.H. (2005). The Southwest Airlines way (1st ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Web.

Hall, C. (2010). Southwest Airlines CEO is defining himself as a leader – without bag fees. Dallas News. Web.

Mouawad, J. (2010). Pushing 40, Southwest is still playing the rebel. The New York Times. Web.

Cite this paper

Select style


StudyCorgi. (2020, May 6). Leadership Styles: Garry Kelly in Southwest Airlines. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2020, May 6). Leadership Styles: Garry Kelly in Southwest Airlines.

Work Cited

"Leadership Styles: Garry Kelly in Southwest Airlines." StudyCorgi, 6 May 2020,

1. StudyCorgi. "Leadership Styles: Garry Kelly in Southwest Airlines." May 6, 2020.


StudyCorgi. "Leadership Styles: Garry Kelly in Southwest Airlines." May 6, 2020.


StudyCorgi. 2020. "Leadership Styles: Garry Kelly in Southwest Airlines." May 6, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Leadership Styles: Garry Kelly in Southwest Airlines'. 6 May.

This paper was written and submitted to our database by a student to assist your with your own studies. You are free to use it to write your own assignment, however you must reference it properly.

If you are the original creator of this paper and no longer wish to have it published on StudyCorgi, request the removal.