Interview herb kelleher

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Excerpt from an interview with Herb Kellerher, Executive Chairman of Southwest Airlines, concerning his ideas and beliefs on building leaders.

Babson Insight – Let’s start with how you build leaders for the future at Southwest, especially how you give them room to learn and grow without creating too many problems while they’re learning?

HK: That’s a good question. We believe that everyperson in the company is a leader in one way or another, no matter what their position in the company might be, ramp agents, flight attendants, whom ever it might be. So we start by asking our People Department to look for leadership capability at the point of hiring, because in addition to hiring people that are altruistic, who like to serve and like to work with others, we also want them to haveleadership potential.

Babson Insight - What do you look for to help you identify whether a person has leadership potential?

HK: One of the things that we do in an informal way is to question people. There aren’t any psychological or written tests, but we discuss many subjects, whether it’s baseball, opera, whatever the subject may be. And we watch how they react to the questions. This is veryhelpful in determining their leadership capabilities and potential and also gives us an insight into their values.

To give you an example, I originally interviewed a guy who just became VP in charge of our financial planning. We talked for two hours and I never asked him a single question about his experience, his expertise, or anything connected with the job description. And the reason Imention that is that he later told some interviewers “I didn’t know I was being interviewed.” That’s what we try to do, so people are at ease and they’re not masquerading. We try to really get to the heart of where they are by asking them to give examples. Examples of difficult situations they’ve been in and what they did to solve them. Particularly, how they work with other people, how they accomplishresults, correct mistakes, etc.

Babson Insight - Can you think of an example where, in the course of that kind of discussion, someone eliminated him or herself by that kind of answer?

HK: Oh yes, well actually I can give you any number of examples, although of course I don’t deal with that every day.

Here’s an example of what I’m referring to. One of our pilot applicants was very nasty toone of our receptionists, and we immediately rejected him. You can’t treat people that way and be the kind of leader we want.

And there are other things that happen. For our interviewing in general and looking for leadership in particular, we use model employees to do it. We bring in our mechanics to interview mechanics, pilots to interview pilots, flight attendants to interview flightattendants, etc. We want their insights. They’re out in the field, they know the kinds of people we want and so we involve them in the hiring process. And of course they can give us some pretty good insight. Most of our pilots have a fairly keen sense of humor. One day a bunch of applicants thought one of our pilots was also an applicant and sat down and started discussing things very frankly and two orthree of them eliminated themselves from consideration by their comments. We also watch applicants when they go to the cafeteria and watch how they relate to our people while they’re up there.

So it’s not just a question of sitting down with them and asking, “Are you a good person? Do you have great leadership qualities?” We try to put them in situations and have conversations where thisnaturally comes out.

Babson Insight - What do you think it is that drives so many executives to be afraid to be so open and share information and be subject to criticism? What’s your observation, because you’ve moved around in the corporate world, you’ve seen lots of people who fail to ask for advice, what’s stops them?

HK: I think its insecurity. They’re afraid that they’ll be found to be...
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