During the history of business, there have been a number of role models that inspired and motivated others. Two of the most prominent examples of leaders evidencing a strong spirit and ability to lead and develop others are Jack Welch, legendary CEO of General Electric, and Herb Kelleher, the man behind the success of Southwest Airlines. These two leaders, though different in style and character, have managed to create an unrivalled culture of excellence and to initiate change in their respective organizations. Jack Welch won a reputation for being a tough CEO, with a take-no-prisoners style.
However, his style proved effective in GE, which is demonstrated by the results achieved by the company: This happened because Jack Welch always had a vision for his company. An example of this is when the manufacturing markets for GE stagnated and Jack Welch led the conglomerate into services. This was a powerful and bold move that led to great success for the company. GE Capital is now one of the world’s most successful financial services businesses. Another aspect of Jack Welch’s success is his strong drive toward efficiency and the best way of doing business.
In his years as CEO, he delivered plenty of trainings in Croton on Hudson, speaking about the importance of sharing best practices (Smart, 1996). The results of Mr. Welch’s leadership practices reverberated through the whole country, as many leaders of corporate America imitated the practice of slashing costs and implementing best practices in their businesses. What is it that enabled Jack Welch, CEO of GE, to hold control over one of America’s largest corporations and to consistently deliver results while at the same time raising shareholder value and initiating change?
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He had a great confidence in the power of the people he worked with; this belief enabled Jack to lead them to impressive results. In addition, he knew his business perfectly and had significant knowledge of what was going on there. Another example of a great leader who achieved impressive results was Herb Kelleher. Southwest Airlines, the company he created, consistently fared better than its competitors, surviving the tough times for the aviation industry. One of the secrets to the company’s success is its unique culture that differentiates it from its competitors.
At Southwest, there is a great emphasis on the people aspect of the business. In fact, Herb Kelleher in an interview with Babson Insight vividly demonstrated his commitment to the staff of the company by calling them People – in this way, written with a capital letter. Kelleher is great in leading and motivating people. His special way of doing so is by encouraging a culture that promotes freedom and flexibility in actions. It did take time to persuade people that the company really meant it and that it was not going to punish initiative but in fact encourage it.
Kelleher recalls the episode when an agent on her own initiative hired a few buses to take the passengers to the airport because there was no other way to do it. She was not punished for her initiative that cost Southwest money; in fact, she was rewarded and made the Star of the month at Southwest Airlines. This way of encouraging initiative made Southwest Airlines a truly great place to work at and helped the company realize the potential of its people. In this way, Herb Kelleher showed his leadership ability and led his company toward a spectacular success, unrivaled in the aviation industry today.
In fact, this skill can actually be imitated by many leaders since the real goal of leadership is not only to develop one’s own potential, but also in developing the potential of its people. Herb Kelleher had other positive qualities that turned him into a great leader. Herb Kelleher passed his leadership down the organizational ladder and succeeded in making it a very inspirational place to work at for employees and in doing so was able to increase to job satisfaction of the employees. The emphasis on having a good time is present in everything that happens at Southwest, from workplace issues to recruiting practices.
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