Gary C Kelly’s Leadership Style at Southwest

Gary Clayton Kelly has had a long career as a business executive. Currently, he serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Southwest Airlines. Previously, he served as the company’s CEO.

Gary C Kelly has won numerous accolades throughout his career, including:

Institutional Investor magazine named him one of the country’s best CEOs three times (2009, 2009, and 2010). Fortune called him the third most underrated CEO in the US in 2017.

What Kind of Leader Is Gary Kelly?

Gary C Kelly is noted as a successful transformational leader, although some categorize him as a servant leader. These two leadership styles have several traits in common, so it’s possible he fits into both categories.

Some important characteristics of transformational leadership include:

  • Visionary: Having a clear, compelling vision for the future that inspires and motivates people within the organization.
  • Inspirational: Using charisma and personality to inspire and influence others.
  • Empowering: Empowering managers and employees by delegating responsibilities to them and giving them resources to reach their goals.
  • Supportive: Supporting the ideas, opinions, and needs of people within the organization.
  • Innovative: Encouraging creativity and innovation within teams and promoting a culture of continuous improvement.

Gary C Kelly fits this leadership style because he often gives managers credit instead of accepting all credit for successes as his own. As a leader within the commercial airline sector, he has relied on innovative ideas from people throughout Southwest.

Does Gary Kelly Have a Servant Leadership Style?

Some describe Gary C Kelly as a servant leader. The servant leadership style characteristics include:

  • Empathy: Servant leaders are empathetic and focus on understanding and addressing the needs and concerns of their team members.
  • Listening: Actively listening to team members and valuing their ideas instead of demanding that everyone follow the executive’s vision.
  • Empowerment: Giving managers and employees the resources, tools, and support they need to reach their goals.
  • Commitment to growth and development: Prioritizing the growth and development of their company members and helping them reach their full potential.
  • Focus on service: Serving team members and creating a positive work environment where they can thrive.

Clearly, servant leadership and transitional leadership styles have a lot in common. Both emphasize the importance of the organization and the people within it rather than putting the focus on the CEO. Gary C Kelly repeatedly displayed that commitment to Southwest’s employees throughout his CEO tenure.

For example, when employees complained that COVID-19 face masks were uncomfortable to wear during long flights, Kelly took their concerns to the US Senate. He argued that masks don’t offer much protection from the virus within an airplane’s environment. Within a year, many airlines followed his lead.

The government considered fighting the industry’s decision to enforce a mask mandate. In the end, though, airlines were allowed to make their own decisions, which fell in line with what most flight crews wanted from their employers.

What Is The Leadership Style of Southwest Airlines?

The leadership style of Southwest Airlines is often called the “Southwest Way.” It primarily uses a servant leadership style that emphasizes the importance of supporting employees.

The Southwest Way also encourages:

  • Teamwork and collaboration, including how teams get structured to how the company makes decisions.
  • Employee empowerment that lets individuals make decisions and take ownership of their work so they can feel a sense of pride.
  • Fun and lighthearted attitude that boosts employee morale and builds a positive work environment.
  • Customer focus that encourages exceptional customer service.

The Southwest Airlines Way gained so much attention under Kelly’s leadership that people wrote numerous articles and even books about how positive relationships can improve performance.

What Are The Styles of Leadership in Aviation?

You can find several leadership styles in the aviation industry. Some of the most popular styles of leadership – other than transformational and servant – include:

  • Authoritarian leadership: This style of leadership focuses on control and hierarchy. Leaders who use this style typically make decisions without seeking input from their managers and team members. They often use highly directive communication styles. Authoritarian leaders expect everyone to follow their orders, and they rarely tolerate independent thinking that could disrupt the pursuit of their goals.
  • Situational leadership: This leadership style focuses on adapting to the situation and team needs. Leaders using situational leadership are often flexible and able to adjust their leadership styles based on evolving needs within the organization.
  • Charismatic leadership: This style of leadership relies on the leader’s charisma and personality. Charismatic leaders can often inspire and influence team members through their personal magnetism and ability to communicate effectively. The obvious weak point of charismatic leadership is that it depends on one person. If that person leaves the organization, managers and employees might feel directionless, unable to establish goals, and confused about how to find success.

Executives often use a combination of leadership styles to make organizations successful. Some leadership styles, however, do not work well with others. For example, someone using an authoritarian leadership style is unlikely to adopt a servant leadership style, even when that approach would benefit the company. The two leadership personalities are almost complete opposites, so a CEO would find it very difficult to balance the two.

Which Leadership Style Is Best In the Aviation Industry?

It’s impossible to say that one leadership style works best in the aviation industry. However, some styles tend to work better than others.

Transformational leadership makes sense within airlines because the companies need to constantly adjust to changes in consumer demand and government regulations. Transformational leadership also encourages people within the organization to remain with the company instead of pursuing job opportunities elsewhere. As a result, someone who starts in a low-level position can move up the ladder into management positions. This reduces employee churn and helps ensure people in management positions have comprehensive views of the industry.

Servant leadership also makes sense within the aviation industry because it relies on teamwork and collaboration. Servant leaders can harness the skills of managers and employees to find successful strategies that attract consumers while meeting regulatory guidelines. Servant leadership also attempts to build a positive work environment, which is essential in a high-pressure industry that demands a lot from workers.

Situational leadership can also work well within the aviation industry because it helps executives observe the current landscape and adapt to evolving needs. While Gary C Kelly rarely gets called a situational leader, he does exhibit some of the style’s traits. One could argue that his roles as a transformational and servant leader are actually the results of situational leadership. Since those approaches work well in the modern aviation industry, he used them to keep Southwest successful.

Four Types of Leadership Behavior

Four of Gary C Kelly’s most important leadership behaviors include:

  • Establishing a clear vision for Southwest Airlines so everyone within the organization knew how to measure success.
  • Giving managers and employees the tools and authority they need to find solutions that conform to Southwest’s vision of success.
  • Encouraging collaboration and teamwork, which is essential in such a complex industry.
  • Building a positive workplace culture where people feel empowered to thrive.

What Is a Type B Leader?

Many people group leaders into types A and B. Type A leaders tend to weld exceptional control over their employees. They believe they know what’s best for the company, so they push everyone to reach their goals.

By contrast, type B leaders characterized are often more laid-back, collaborative, and less focused on achieving personal success and recognition. They tend to have more patient, flexible personalities and prioritize building relationships and positive workplace environments over reaching goals quickly at any cost.

Type B leaders are often seen as being more empathetic and attuned to the needs of their team members, and are willing to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others. They typically remain open to feedback and criticism, and are willing to make changes based on input from others. For many, this looks like an advantage because it creates more opportunities for other people to share their ideas. That way, executives get a broader range of options so they weigh strategies and choose the most effective one.

There are debates about the usefulness of labeling leaders as either Type A or Type B, especially since many executives demonstrate a mixture of qualities. Still, some believe that understanding these different leadership styles can help identify one’s own strengths and weaknesses as a leader, which could lead to a positive evolution that benefits the company and everyone involved.

Is Gary Kelly Retiring?

Gary Kelly stepped down as the CEO of Southwest Airlines in 2022. He still holds his position as the board’s Executive Chairman, though. He’s expected to continue serving as the Executive Chairman until at least 2026. After that, it seems likely that he will retire. However, he has not announced any plans publicly.

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