Essay Example on Herb Kelleher: Charismatic Leader in Aerospace Industry

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1546 Words
Date:  2023-02-11


For centuries now, new theories and approaches have aided organizations to adapt to the changing markets since leadership is more than just seniority and position of authority in an organization. In most cases, good leadership is associated with higher developments and growth. Within the aerospace industry, Herb Kelleher, the President, CEO, and co-founder of Southwest Airlines is cited as an ideal example of charismatic leaders. Herb Kelleher was known as empathetic and charismatic following the leadership qualities that earned him recognition and respect through the aerospace industry resulting in profits for 24 years consecutively (Cote, 2018). The main aim of the paper will be to provide a leadership analysis report on Herb Kelleher's leadership qualities and competence in running Southwest Airlines.

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Spiritual and Servant Leadership

Leadership means the ability to rally people to achieve organization goals; different leaders use different approaches to effect leadership. The outcomes of leadership perspectives will be equally proportionate to the ethical approach to power, authority, motivation and persuasion of employees. Both servant leadership and spirituality, together or separately, can increase the effectiveness of leadership and inspire higher organizational and individual performance. Herb Kelleher practiced spiritual and servant leadership by developing a vision, promoting core duties and values, empowered employees, and encouraged more commitment and productivity (Fry, Matherly, Whittington, & Winston, 2007). However, with confidence strapped business leadership, the spiritual and servant leadership has been possible with the application of Greenleaf's servant leadership theory. Within Greenleaf's servant leadership theory, it promotes setting aside the self-interest of leaders to ensure the betterment of the intended objective applicable to good leadership behavior (Bass & Riggio, 2006). According to the development Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher portrays the significant trait on spiritual and servant leadership regarding Greenleaf's servant leadership theory ensuring the betterment of commitment and performance. How leaders dispense their leadership responsibilities as authority, power, persuasion and motivation is what makes a leader different. Servant leadership, use of influence and persuasion; charismatic leadership and referent leadership are amongst the ethical approaches to express power, authority, persuasion and motivation to achieve positive organization outcomes.

Transactional and Transformational Leadership

Leaders employ different leadership and management styles and techniques to maintain employee performance and ensure an accomplishment of internal change. According to Herb Kelleher's leadership style, it is both transformational (behavioral - support) approach and transactional (task - direction) approach. In the transactional leadership, it evaluates the employee based on tasks and offers an array of incentive and other disciplinary powers to ensure performance improvement (Bass & Riggio, 2006). In Herb Kelleher's style, he focused on the behavioral approach by rewarding employees to ensure success in the airline industry. In the transformational leadership style, Herb Kelleher maintained the growth of individuals by empowering and aligning the company with the objectives and goals. Herb Kelleher used this approach based on Idealized Influence (I), Inspirational Motivation (IM), Individualized consideration (IC), and Intellectual Stimulation (IS). Transformational leadership develops beyond managing daily operations as it focuses on motivation, collaboration, and team building to foster change (Cote, 2018).

However, transactional and transformational leadership are opposites in the involvement of underlying management and motivation leadership theories (Smith, Montagno, & Kuzmenko, 2004). In the detail of the transformational leadership theory developed by James McGregor Burns and the transactional leadership theory introduced in 1947 by Max Weber, they play a significant role in the definition of the leadership theories as applied to the leadership behaviors (Smith, et al., 2004).

Traits and Behaviors of Charismatic Leader

Similar to other leadership approaches such as transformational leadership, the traits and behaviors of charismatic leaders are based on various developments. According to Herb Kelleher, charisma is unique personality quality, and characteristic that entitles am individual exceptional authorities and powers that define them as a leader. In different cases, the traits and behaviors of charismatic leaders referencing to Herb Kelleher demonstrated charisma based on particular behaviors. For example, being a reliable and robust role model for the workers, possessing conceptual skills, technical and soft skills similar to CEOs (Grabo, Spisak, & van Vugt, 2017). Moreover, charismatic leaders follow a substantial collection and set of ethical beliefs, moral, and values as well, which aid in defining good leadership and defined by Herb Kelleher. Specifically, there are distinct traits of charismatic leaders. For example, charismatic leaders have to develop a vision of how to make things or improve things, the self-confidence of the leaders in their abilities, and extraordinary communication skills which involve the ability to articulate the vision of the company.

Also, a charismatic leader needs to have a high level of personal energy and willingness to work, commitment and should act as role models to the followers (Gibson & Blackwell, 1999). In another consideration, charismatic leaders have common behaviors. For instance, charismatic leaders have to articulate the vision of the company, project self-assurance, demonstrate empathy, and also empower the followers to assuring them of their competency. However, according to the trait theory of leadership, charismatic leaders must possess the correct traits and behavioral characteristics critical to ensure successful leadership (Zaccaro, 2007). Primarily, Kelleher communicated high expectations for employees with autonomy in handling their operations. It creates the existence of a culture promoting affiliation among employees driving productivity (Gibson & Blackwell, 1999).

Influencing and Powering Leadership

In proper and ethical leadership, the capacity to inspire and motivate other individuals to take action is a distinguishing element that distinguishes between managers and leaders. Majorly, the best leaders can able to influence the up, down, and across in the organization, which impacts the company by driving change. Through such practices, Herb Kelleher has managed to inspire the individual in the Southwest Airlines operations. Influencing behavior is never a one-time practice but a continuous practice that every leader needs to consider to ensure success in the organization and empower the employees. By incorporating influence and power leadership, leaders ensure the development of programs that aid in setting up the organization for success. While influencing and powering leadership could benefit all the functional sections across an organization, they are acritical development that leaders need to consider in an attempt to develop the organization (Zhang & Bartol, 2010).

Interestingly, Herb Kelleher derives that, influencing and powering leadership produces leaders that consider effective behavior change. In Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher takes a task-specific approach to effective performance change through self-awareness by expanding understanding of the power dynamics that could be associated with organizational development. Furthermore, according to the power and influence theory, they are based on the different uses of power and influence that leaders undertake to get things done and obtain the required results. The theory applies to leadership behaviors since it outlines the particular requirements of the leader. Within the involvement, it draws to Herb Kelleher's practices in the Southwest Airlines since in every leadership trait, accountability and ethics play a significant role to maintain that the company observes the different objectives attributed to power and influence theories (Cote, 2018).


Herb Kelleher founded Southwest Airlines from a business idea transforming it to amongst the most significant airlines today through persistence and proper leadership skills. Based on Herb Kelleher's leadership strategies and approaches, he depicted a significant relationship in various leadership approaches. For example, Kelleher shows the distinct aspects of spiritual and servant leader, transactional and transformational leadership, traits of charismatic leaders, and the influencing and powering leadership. As a leader, Herb Kelleher utilized the different leadership approaches in association with the various leadership theories to motivate, empower, inspire, rewards, and also support the employees in learning their duties. Through behavior approach, it maintains a proper development mainly, in the aerospace industry as practiced by Herb Kelleher. In leadership, it is fundamental to approaches that treat employees and customers as they deserve and ensure a focus on helping the community as a whole.


Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership. Psychology Press. Retrieved from

Cote, R. (2018). Leadership Analysis: Southwest Airlines-Herb Kelleher, CEO. Journal of Leadership, Accountability, and Ethics, 15(1). DOI: 10.33423/jlae. v15i1.635 Retrieved from

Fry, L. W., Matherly, L. L., Whittington, J. L., & Winston, B. E. (2007). Spiritual leadership as an integrating paradigm for servant leadership. Integrating spirituality and organizational leadership 70-82. Retrieved from

Gibson, J. W., & Blackwell, C. W. (1999). Flying high with Herb Kelleher: A profile in charismatic leadership. Journal of leadership studies, 6(3-4), 120-137. Retrieved from

Grabo, A., Spisak, B. R., & van Vugt, M. (2017). Charisma as a signal: An evolutionary perspective on charismatic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 28(4), 473-485. Retrieved from

Smith, B. N., Montagno, R. V., & Kuzmenko, T. N. (2004). Transformational and servant leadership: Content and contextual comparisons. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 10(4), 80-91. Retrieved from

Zaccaro, S. J. (2007). Trait-based perspectives of leadership. American psychologist, 62(1), 6. Retrieved from

Zhang, X., & Bartol, K. M. (2010). Linking empowering leadership and employee creativity: The influence of psychological empowerment, intrinsic motivation, and creative process engagement. Academy of management journal, 53(1), 107-128. Retrieved from

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