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Southwest Airlines: Love Is In The Air

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Southwest Airlines: Love is in the Air

Hannah M. Haggins

Axia College

MGT 245

Organizational Theory and Behavior

Profesor Robert Peart

March 02, 2008

Southwest Airlines: Love is in the Air

There are no reservations that Southwest Airline is a sensation in the airline industry and an icon in the business world. No other U.S. airline has come close to duplicating their history of productivity. Business leaders and schools alike strive to comprehend what sets this company apart from its competitors while many attempt to imitate their success. Using our newly acquired viewpoints on organizational behavior, we have tested Southwest Airline on a variety of the psychology, communication and leadership structures we have learned throughout this semester.

There are several reasons Southwest Airline has emerged well above its peers. From their trademark “retorts” that come from the cockpit to the eccentric uniforms and costumes, this is an airline that chooses to color “outside the lines.” Employees, hired for their attitudes, become part of a family who fosters their self-respect and suits many of their inborn human desires. Southwest Airline practices open communication with its “family members”, resulting in unusually positive relations with its labor unions. Lastly, this is a company of leaders being guided by leaders of all styles as embodied by the appealing style of the company’s founding president and CEO, Herb Kelleher.

Each of these characteristics sets this company apart from other airlines, and has contributed to its amazing accomplishments. As a result of this examination, we will provide an explanation of how a company that puts customers second can be so widely successful, and emphasize the significance of understanding organizational behavior.


Hiring for Attitude

While most companies have a human resources or Personnel department, Southwest Airline relies on its “People” department to select the right people to fill the Southwest uniform.

In the book Nuts, the authors deduce that Southwest Airline employs for attitude and trains for skills (Freiburg, 1998). In this book, Kelleher is quoted referencing the type of people the company recruits:

“We look for attitudes; people with a sense of humor who don’t take themselves too seriously. We’ll train you on whatever it is you have to do, but the one thing that Southwest Airline cannot change in people is inherent attitudes” (Freiberg, 1998)

This is an area in which Southwest Airline will not compromise. There is a strict conviction at Southwest Airline that its people define the company, and they go to exceptional extents to ensure they are hiring employees who fit the Southwest Airline mold.

In Chapter 5 of our textbook, we were presented with “The Big-five Personality Dimensions.” Based on our research, we began to see a picture emerge of the personality of a typical Southwest Airline employee and chose to measure them along these dimensions. (Champoux, 2006)

High in Extroversion- Chatty, energetic, outgoing, confidant,

High in Emotional stability- Peaceful, laid-back, self-assured

High in Agreeableness- Accommodating, open-minded, pleasant, considerate

High in Conscientiousness- Trustworthy, prepared, thorough

High in Openness to Experience- Inquisitive, intellectual, artistic

Southwest Airline has defined the type of qualities they desire, and they work hard to find employees who display these characteristics. The advantage of hiring for personality or attitude is that it is difficult for an applicant to hide or play a role in an interview. In a related story found in the book Nuts, a highly adorned military pilot applied to the flight department. While traveling to Dallas on Southwest Airline for his interview, the pilot was impolite to the customer service agent and bitter and condescending when he arrived and spoke to the receptionist. Regardless of his admirable resume, and decorated flight record his attitude simply did not fit the company and he was quickly dismissed. This is a clear example of how attitude outclass skill in Southwest Airline hiring procedure.


Southwest Airline has done an outstanding job encouraging employee self-esteem. The company will be rewarded for taking time to focus on improving employee self-esteem. An individual’s low self-worth produces low confidence and negative feelings, which will ultimately defeat the individual. This harmful mind-set will influence the individual’s quality of work, effectiveness and overall health.

There are two requirements that satisfy a person’s self-esteem. The first is a sense of belonging or being loved. The second need is territory or a person’s individuality. Uniqueness is what separates a person from the group. Self-esteem concentrates on the individual’s moral principles, and soul.

A person can compare these needs to the self-esteem sausage. The self-esteem sausage is made up of two parts. One half is love and the other half is individuality. In order to have a healthy self-esteem, a person must have a full sausage with both ends well balanced.

Southwest Airline focuses on keeping its employees’ self-esteem sausage balanced. In order to keep the love in balance, the company focuses on creating a home or family within the organization. Employees are not afraid to hug each other. Instead of handshakes, introductions are done with hugs (Culberson, 2004). Southwest Airline is not afraid to talk to their employees with feeling and tell them the company loves them and wants to make sure they are happy. The company’s objective is to have employees retire, and tell family and friends that working at Southwest Airline was one of the optimum experiences he or she ever had, and that it helped them grow beyond anything he, or she thought possible (Kelleher, 1997).

Southwest Airlines number one concern is


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