What Southwest Airlines Teaches Leaders About Corporate Culture

If you've flown Southwest Airlines you know they're tops in airline customer service, driven by a leadership style that creates a company-wide culture where all employees own that culture.

According to SWA Chairman, President and CEO Gary Kelly, as reported in the company's in-flight magazine, "every company has a culture, whether that culture is supportive or stifling, active or passive, fun or discouraging."

"One way we do culture differently is by making Southwest's culture everyone's responsibility. In fact, we ask everyone to 'own it,'" says Kelly.

Here are some of the ways that SWA keeps its winning culture in the forefront that you can also do to keep employees motivated and to drive great customer service:

1.  Form a corporate culture committee and a local culture committee that organizes low-cost employee events throughout the year.
2. Include a section related to culture on each employee's annual performance appraisal. This goes for every employee in your company, including the entire management team.
3.  Explain your company's culture on the first day of each new hire's orientation and training.
4.  Foster a culture that encourages celebration.


  1. Eric - Thanks for the post. There is a really good book called Made To Stick. One of the things that talk about is the Commander's Intent (aka CI). This is the key rally cry or key message of what is trying to be accomplished, so that employees can focus their actions to support the CI. One of the examples was that Southwest airlines CI was they wanted to be THE low cost airline. All decisions needed to support that. They have done a great job of having fun, celebrating each other and customers in creative ways that still support the CI of being THE low cost airline.

  2. Chuck,

    Thanks for the tip on the book. I'll definitely check it out.

    It really is impressive what Southwest has accomplished while still being the low cost carrier.


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