How did Southwest Airlines make money from fun?

Posted by on Sep 18, 2013 in Leadership | Comments Off on How did Southwest Airlines make money from fun?


Personal Leadership and Managing the Corporate Paradox

southwestThe Corporate Paradox:
There have been many recent studies about the psychological impact on leaders when corporations over-emphasize extrinsic motivations such as shareholder value and financial rewards. It appears to diminish intrinsic motivations such as a value-driven culture, work that is meaningful, and the well-being of the workforce and society.  You can read more in the August 2013 publication of Psychology Today about Personal Leadership and Success.  According to Tim Kasser, chair of Psychology at Knox College, “The real problem in corporate America is bad culture.  It activates and encourages those materialistic values, and ends up suppressing more intrinsic, pro-social, and maybe spiritual values.” This problem appears to be human psychology and a cultural paradox. Like most paradoxes and unlike a math problem, there is no solution set per se. Paradoxical situations require managing both seemingly opposing sides because the truth is that both needs are important. Personal leadership is the key to begin shifting the corporate culture to be more balanced.

A Success Story on Managing the Corporate Paradox: 
Managing the Corporate Paradox is possible as demonstrated by the success of Southwest Airlines under the stewardship of their CEO Herb Kelleher. Under his leadership they have created the country’s largest low-cost airline and the most consistently profitable airline over the past 40 years. Kelleher’s clear sense of purpose reversed the usual equation of focusing solely on the betterment of investors. In graduate school I was intrigued by the story of Southwest Airlines because they created a culture with a focus of keeping their own people happy, which in turn kept customers happy and the rest is history.

Changing Corporate Culture starts with Personal Leadership:  
What attracted me to the article was the focus on personal leadership as a way to change the current corporate culture. Our behaviors are driven by understanding who we are, our values, beliefs, thoughts, emotions and motivations. The article outlines the work of Hitendra Wadhwa, a professor at Columbia Business School, “when we train ourselves to master our inner life; we can better master our outer life.” This is the essence of leadership coaching and what motivates me to get out of bed in the morning. As you probably know, a coach asks a lot of questions to elicit self-awareness and self-sufficiency. Here is a question for all of you leaders:

How do you intend to create a corporate culture that manages both needs for extrinsic materialistic values and intrinsic values of purpose, meaning and pro-social values?