Barrett shares the belief that there is no one prescription for effective leadership. "The key to being the most effective leader is to build an organization or team with people who want to subscribe to and follow your style, philosophies, and behaviors," she says. "In other words, you can have a great leader at one organization who would be a dismal failure at another." Barrett credits the leadership of co-founder and chairman Herb Kelleher with making Southwest what it is today. (Kelleher turned over the airline's day-to-day operations to Barrett and CEO Jim Parker in June 2001.)
In addition to what has undoubtedly been a sure and cautious hand in directing the airline's financial moves ("We've been managed and led for thirty-two years to realize that we need to be managing for the worst of times during the best of times"), Barrett points to Kelleher's humanitarian leadership. "Part of the success of Southwest has been because Herb is such an all-inclusive person," she says.
We wouldn't even have titles here if the world didn't dictate that we have them. In Herb's mind, the team is just sort of all on the same level. He'll ask everyone and anyone for their opinions and their thoughts—I'm not saying that he won't mull it over and make a decision finally on his own, but he's all-inclusive in terms of sharing thoughts and soliciting opinions.
Barrett's own philosophy on communication has a similar egalitarian bent. She believes that the most important aspect of good communication is to reach out to people in every way possible:
You can write five thousand memos, and if the person isn't one who learns or wants to communicate on a piece of paper, you've wasted your time because they won't read it and they won't respond to it. So we overkill: we do things on paper, we do things on e-mail, we do things on video… we communicate to death. There is not anyone here who could ever say that he or she doesn't get updated frequently on anything in which they have an interest.
Southwest also improves communication by requiring that managers spend at least one day per quarter in the field, in a department and with an employee that they don't ordinarily work with. Finally, Barrett is a stickler for timeliness when it comes to internal communication:
We follow the exact same philosophies in terms of turnaround time for our internal communications as we do our external. We have goals, and I really hold people accountable on those. I think that the timeliness of the communication is almost as important as the communication itself. So that's something that I've been almost dictatorial about—I will not excuse late responses.