Servant Leadership Spotlight: Southwest Airlines

students listening to their professor

When thinking of what it means to be a successful business person, there is a stereotype that comes to mind. It usually includes a black brief case, a suit and tie and a very serious demeanor.

Recently, Grand Canyon University MBA students were given an opportunity to have a sneak peek into a real-life example of a company that challenges this stereotype. Students of GCU indulged as Richard Sweet, Southwest Airline’s marketing advisor and employee of 32 years, revealed some of the secrets of Southwest’s success.

Southwest is an accredited and favored airline for many reasons, but their most distinguishing factor is their customer service. A customer service so recognizable is hard to come by, and often leaves other businesses wondering, “How do you motivate employees to be so attentive to their customers?”

Sweet answers this question with two words: servant leadership.

Southwest Airlines requires each employee to take on a “grunt job” during the beginning stages of their career with the company. Sweet reflected back on his six-month period as a luggage loader and explained that this practice helped him and other employees to learn, understand and appreciate all that was involved, and to prove that they were committed to their job.

Just as Southwest expects their employees to take care of their customers, Southwest replicates this same servant leadership by taking care of their employees. Sweet revealed that employees of Southwest are compensated well through stock options, bonuses, profit-sharing and great benefits.

Although money has proven to be a motivating factor, it alone is not what motivates employees to embody the servant leadership mentality. Another huge factor in Southwest’s success is the freedom that each employee experiences and that their individuality is encouraged and valued.

Southwest has recognized that customers respond well to people. Just like no one stays on the phone line with an automated sales rep, people do not listen to employees that seem uninterested or unenthusiastic. Southwest strives for a genuine customer-employee relationship and an authentic work environment. Sweet even goes to the extent of saying, “If you can’t have fun, you don’t fit in at Southwest.”

Conclusively, how can GCU’s future business leaders mirror Southwest’s servant leadership and, ultimately, their success?

Allow the main concern and priority of the business to be the people, rather than the profit. Let the integrity of the company be the motivating factor behind all employees and customer service, and watch as customer satisfaction turns into customer loyalty. Challenge the typical entrepreneur and business person stereotype, and break the mold.

Grand Canyon University’s Colangelo College of Business embraces a student-centric culture with an emphasis on higher purpose and academic success. To learn more about GCU’s business degrees, visit our website or request more information using the button at the top of the page.

Written by Quin Jackson, a sophomore earning degree in Advertising and Public Relations at GCU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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