Southwest Airlines

The Business of Business

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Southwest Airlines

High Flyer:

Herb Kelleher, the beloved longtime CEO of Southwest Airlines, said, “The business of business is people. Yesterday, today and forever.”

I buy that statement. Employees, leadership teams, boards, customers, suppliers—all the stakeholders comprise people. At least for now! It is hard to see how any business organization can do well, let alone thrive, if they do not learn how to work with and inspire people. People “issues” are where I spend most

of my time working with leaders of all kinds from all walks of life.


One of the many definitions of leaders and managers is that they get work done through other people. It is evident then that a significant portion of the time and effort for leaders and managers will be understanding, guiding, and developing other people as well as themselves. We also must manage up and across our organizations, so that too requires “people skills.”

Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, states that our knowledge-workers require three things to be engaged at work—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. David Marquet, in his book, Turn The Ship Around!, requires Technical Competency (Mastery) and Clarity of Vision and Values (Purpose) to Give Control Away (Autonomy). Simon Sinek, in his book Start With Why, makes it clear that until a person and organization understand their Why (Vision/Purpose), they will not thrive. He states that people buy why you do what you do, not what you do. All three of these great Business and Leadership books focus on people.


In the end, all organizations, whether business, society, country, or world, are all about people. One of the people who get that not so well-kept secret is Bob Chapman. He has transformed his company, Barry-Wehmiller, from an MBA business to a relationship business. It has paid off handsomely, and he is now an ambassador to the business community advocating for people-oriented organizations. That can only be a good thing since all our welfare depends on people participating in the game of business.

So, the question in my mind is, how will you (and I) change our organizations to honor the people in our stakeholder community? What values will we as leaders need to live out and model to transform our organizations?

[Format updated 10/1/2019]