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Success Factors and Leadership Strategies: Southwest Airlines and Emirates Airlines Coursework



Air travelling is one of the most popular and constantly growing industries in the whole world. People want to use airlines to get to destination points in a short period; people want to work in the sphere of aircraft and try to improve the conditions under which the airline industry can be improved.

The success of the chosen industry depends on the success of each airline company and their abilities to introduce appropriate authorities, airports, and services for passengers (Cento 2009). This paper aims at discussing the peculiarities of two airline companies and comparing their success factors, leadership strategies, and cultural consideration.

Southwest Airlines (SWA) and Emirates Airlines are two competitive organisations from different continents that have many things in common and introduce a variety of managerial approaches to succeed in the airline industry. Their cultural differences, priorities, services, and leadership styles identify the chosen companies as the powerful figures in the airline industry and the examples of how services have to be offered to passengers and how a successful company has to be organised inside.

The comparison of Southwest Airlines and Emirates Airlines is a chance to comprehend how cultural and regional diversities may define the quality of services, improve the airline industry, and provide people with appropriate working conditions and consumer services; the analysis of the companies’ leadership strategies and organisational behaviour shows that different approaches and attitudes to the idea of airline services can create two powerful organisations that can work and get improved constantly.

Literature Review

During a long period, the airline industry has faced certain challenges, the necessity to follow the standards and meet the requirements (Truxal 2013). The existing competitions make airline companies think about different methods to achieve goals and profits (Lumpe 2012) such as the minimisation of aircraft turnaround times or cheaper fares (Tierney & Kuby 2008).

The choice of the method depends a lot on the native country of a company and its working region. Such dependence influences the style of leadership, the working conditions, and even the identification of ethical considerations that have to be followed by the staff.

The current technological progress and a variety of passengers’ needs and expectations promote the corrections and innovations in the airline industry as well. Organisations have to be ready to analyse their success factors and weaknesses and explain what steps they have already taken and are going to take to succeed in organising and developing.

The overview of the airline industry shows that this kind of industry has undergone many changes during the last 70 years including the development of jet airplanes or jumbo jets (Blockley 2014). The development touches upon the structural, economic, organisational, and even political aspects.

People in all countries are in need of safe and constant transportation options. Besides, the airline industry should not be regarded as the sphere of services only. All services have to be created and developed by people; therefore, the chosen industry is the source of earning and a possibility to provide people with working places. In addition to the properly developed consumers’ services, people have to introduce a credible plan of work with a successful organisational context.

The airline industry has already survived several economic and industrial crises. The results are impressive because aircraft services are still in demand and continue developing. Global air travels have been increased by 8.2% in the middle of 2015 (IATA 2015). The sphere of international air travelling in the Middle East has been also improved considerably. All these results prove that people continue working and using their best ideas to earn, provide each other with quality services, and use the latest technological achievements.

Leadership is one of the crucial aspects of the organisational context (Young & Price 2013). It is not only about the orders and rules that people should identify in time. Young and Price (2013) introduce leadership as a capability of people, who take leading positions, to listen, observe, analyse, use experience, and consider the current possibility to promote appropriate decision-making activities, articulate the values, and communicate with people on the necessary level.

To be a good leader does not mean to have a magical combination of skills and traits and use them properly. To be a good leader means to understand a situation, define the circumstances, choose a way of work, and develop the required portion of skills gradually. Good leaders demonstrate the best skills in decision-making processes and goal-establishing activities. All these steps are usually described theoretically.

In the sphere of aircraft, as well as in any other sphere, leadership theories play a very important role. There are many theories of leadership that can be offered. All of them can be divided into several meaningful groups: trait theories, situational theories, participative theories, influence theories, behavioural theories, contingency theories, transformational theories, etc.

Each theory is a unique combination of explanations, approaches, and outcomes that can be used by people, who want or need to become good leaders and define leadership as a form of art that can be learnt over time (Waite 2008).

Southwest Airlines and Emirates Airlines are the two organisations that demonstrate how different theories can be applied and used regarding the current technological, economic, and organisational aspects. Southwest Airlines demonstrates the ways of how it is possible to combine transformational, contingency, and behavioural theories. Emirates Airlines’ leaders are good at satisfying needs of consumers and employees and offering the best services even in the most unexpected situations.

A variety of approaches used by the companies in the same sphere may be explained by an-almost-20-year-old-difference, some cultural and ethnic perspectives, or the expectations set by people. On the one hand, the companies aim at satisfying customers’ needs and try to use their best opportunities to impress a passenger.

On the other hand, their intentions are characterised by different methods and approaches: Emirates Airlines focuses on the quality and luxury of their services, and Southwest Airlines focuses on the appropriateness and accessibility of its services to ordinary people. Both companies follow the same standards defined in the airline industry. At the same time, they are so different that sometimes it seems unreasonable to compare them. The UAE and Qatar airlines are defined as the best representatives of the chosen industry (Rapoza 2014).

Southwest Airlines and Emirates Airlines are good at training people, improving the already given sources and materials, and demonstrating high-quality results. Each of these characteristics can be introduced and analysed independently. However, it is wrong to neglect the connection between these issues.

For example, training is one of the possible intervention strategies that can be used to improve the quality of aircraft services and reduce the number of errors (Sadasivan & Gramopadhye 2009). The outcomes of the work depend on how successfully a training procedure has taken place and if the staff could use the available sources and materials.

Leadership Theories

Southwest and Emirates are the participants of the same competition, still, they introduce different approaches. Their leaders have various theoretical backgrounds. To analyse the success of both, it is necessary to enumerate several theories and styles that can be used.

There are many studies dedicated to leadership theories and their roles in organisational behaviour. Some leaders may not know that they follow a particular theory or style but become the best example of a theory. As a rule, the leaders of big organisations can follow great-man theory, trait theory, Maslow’s theory of needs, or some behavioural or contingency theories.

Great Man Theory

The great-man theory is regarded as one of the first attempts to understand the peculiarities of leadership at the end of the 19th century (Waite 2008). According to this theory, a person should be born to become a leader. It was necessary to have certain individual skills and use particular social and historical circumstances to become a good leader. In other words, the great-man theory teaches people about the impossibility to make a leader.

A leader should be born. The supporters of such theory use the examples of good leaders and prove that they are not only the results of their times and conditions. They were the heroes due to the intrinsic features. Such theory can be hardly used to explain or analyse the airline companies under consideration.

Trait Theory

A new attempt to comprehend the essence of leadership was made at the beginning of the 20th century. The developers of this theory admit that people can be either born with the required qualities of a good leader or made in regards to the chosen position. According to this theory, a leader should be intelligent, responsible, and creative to be able and guide people (Waite 2008).

For example, some traits may be inherited only: adaptability to different situations, ambitiousness, self-confidence, and decisiveness. Some skills can be gained with time: creativity, smartness, persuasiveness, or communication. It is possible to believe that a part of this theory can be used to understand what helps the leaders of Southwest Airlines and Emirates Airlines to achieve success.

Maslow’s Theory of Needs

Any leader should be ready to motivate people and understand how to use others’ skills to succeed in a mutual business. Sometimes, leaders can rely on the ideas offered by Abraham Maslow about the style of leadership based on needs and motivation. This theory helps to comprehend how it is possible to lead people, meet their needs, and expect a good portion of work to be performed.

As soon as a leader takes care of certain physiological needs (the necessity to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe), safety needs (job security or medical insurance), social needs (friendship or group belonging), esteem needs (recognition and self-respect), and self-actualisation needs (wisdom or justice), he/she can easily understand and identify employees, customers, and even sources to rely on in a working process (Maslow 2013). The ability to motivate people is crucial for any leader.

Very often, not all leaders are eager to spend their time and efforts to identify all these needs. They just set the goals, choose the staff, and make sure the goals are met by the employees. It is a wrong mistake. Maslow believes that such attitude to leadership can hardly lead to some positive outcomes. Leaders have to think about their workers.

Still, they should not be too kind or too sympathetic. It is more important to stay confident and intelligent, demanding and equitable, goal-oriented and supportive. Not all people comprehend how to develop all these skills and traits at the same time. That is why the theory offered by Maslow is the opportunity to understand people and become a good leader. It can happen that Southwest Airlines rely on this theory more than the representatives of Emirates Airlines.

Behavioural Theories

Behavioural theories focus on the idea that it is possible to turn any person into a good leader. One of the examples of how leaders can be made is given in the role theory. This theory helps to realise that all people should perform their roles and understand what expectations are connected with their roles.

Leaders should encourage other people to behave in regards to the roles set. That is why leaders require the division of their organisations into departments, the departments into sections with each section having its manager. As soon as all responsibilities are identified, it seems to be easier to work, know what to do, and realise why something should be done. Southwest Airlines can be a god example of how this theory can work in practice.

Contingency Theories

Leadership styles can depend on the environment according to which leaders have to cooperate with employees. This type of theories explains that sometimes it is impossible to choose one best option for all situations, and it is preferable to work in regards to the demands of people around (customers or workers). For example, the path-goal theory developed by Robert House in 1996 suggests considering the idea that all leadership theories may be incorrect by their nature (Lunenberg & Ornstein 2008).

Leaders have to pay more attention to their abilities on how to coordinate people and achieve the goals set. The core of this theory is the behaviour demonstrated by a leader. If leaders prefer to use this theory, they have to be ready to participate directly in all discussions, make decisions, and analyse the outcomes that should be achieved and have been achieved.

As a rule, it is not a difficult task if leaders like their job and are interested in the successful accomplishment of their work. It is hard to comprehend if the leaders of the chosen companies support this kind of theory. Still, it is possible to use this approach as a recommendation for both airline companies.

Organisational Practice Analysis

Southwest Airlines is a well-known American aircraft company that aims at providing people with the possibilities to get to the required destinations at the most affordable fares on time (About Southwest 2015). Emirates Airlines is a famous Arab organisation that has proved that the quality of airline services can be improved and available to people (About Emirates 2015). The leadership theories and approaches vary in these two organisations, and their analysis should help to comprehend what can be offered to the companies.

Southwest Airlines Overview

Southwest Airlines is a 45-year-old company with a brand name known to the majority of countries in the North America and South America as the company with the largest fleet of Boeing aircraft in the whole world (Southwest corporate fact sheet 2015). About 48,000 employees work at Southwest Airlines and demonstrate their complete devotion to everything they are involved in the company.

The satisfaction of the employees and their customers serve as evidence to the properly chosen leadership activities and cooperation between people. The success of Southwest can be explained by a variety of things, and one of them is the presence of spirituality in the workplace and the promotion of spiritual and ethical values (Milliman et al. 1999).

The policy of the company is a successful example of how people should be organised and controlled when it is necessary to implement some new ideas, and how to explain to the employees what should be done in a certain period.

Maybe, the achievements of the company may be connected with a particular person, its leader, Gary Kelly, as well as the company’s co-founders, Herb Kelleher and Rollin King, who ideas and approaches amazed many people. Besides, it is possible to unite the work of the company with the leadership techniques chosen.

Finally, a properly chosen team, clearly defined goals, and a good leader can be interrelated and become the reason for why Southwest Airlines’ services are still in demand.

The company identifies several principles according to which the staff should work. These are the warrior spirit (the abilities to work hard, be persevere and courageous, and innovate), the servant’s heart (the necessity to consider the global principles and put the demands of other people first), a fun attitude (a chance to enjoy the work, have fun, and celebrate success), and the customers’ needs (safe and reliable services, low cost, and friendly attitude).

Despite the fact that these principles are developed and supported by a team of professionals, the role of a leader has to be underlined. First, the leader takes responsibility for every single decision made in the company. Second, the leader has to evaluate and try to predict the outcomes of the work done. Finally, the leader should understand what is beneficial and harmful to the company.

Southwest Airlines’ history shows that the company has four evident leaders, whose ideas and approaches captivates by their uniqueness and effectiveness. Each leader demonstrates his vision of the company and the work that has to be organised:

  • Kelleher and King: powerful communication skills, abilities to negotiate, amazing motivational power, extraversion in work;
  • Parker: with extremely poor communication skills, the negotiation skills are developed properly, the reserved nature of leadership;
  • Kelly: the reserved nature of leadership with good skills in negotiation and communication, the desire to use innovation and involve employees in as many working processes as possible.

All these qualities and characteristics introduce Southwest Airlines as a powerful organisation with a huge potential to stay competitive for many years.

Information about Emirates Airlines

Emirates Airlines is a 30-year-old organisation. It introduces the airline industry in the UAE as a kind of treasure that can be available to many people from different parts of the world. There are many people involved in the leadership of the company. Still, its main figures are Tim Clark (the current CEO and President of the company) and Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

The beginning years of the company’s existence were not as fascinating as they expected to be. Much work had to be done. The results were impressive: with a startup of $10 million, the company became one of the leading airline companies in the whole world (History 2015). Its leaders do not focus prices or standards. They think about what can be convenient and interesting to their passengers.

The chosen Arab company does not try to win competitions setting too high prices. However, Emirates Airlines wants to stay competitive using its leaders and the styles implemented. It is not enough for the company to have a strong team. It is more important to have a stable and definite leader, who can implement the best strategies and provide people with the required portion of understanding and instructions.

Saeed Al Maktoum created a well-known brand of luxury, quality, and comfort from an ordinary regional company. Many people want to use the services of this organisation only. Many people cannot understand why so much money should be spent on travelling by plane that can be substituted by cheaper options like bus, car, or train travels.

However, when people, who know about the services and options available to the consumers of Emirates Airlines, hear about this company, they know that it is possible to expect something unbelievable. Not long time ago, the company introduced its customers a new service, a shower in a cabin.

Now, long travels become more comfortable and interesting for people with Emirates Airlines. The company does not want to stop and try to invent more captivating ideas. The leaders admit that they are good at competing, liberalisation and numerous financial interventions in the sphere of aviation because all of them are always in the interests of consumers (About Emirates 2015).

The models and achievements of Emirates Airlines serve as one of the best examples of how leaders should behave. It is not enough to listen or make orders. A good leader has to understand what is necessary for the potential consumers of the company, if it is possible to meet the expectations, and if the services are of a high quality.

The styles of leadership of Emirates Airlines captivate with their uniqueness and simplicity at the same time. On the one hand, the leader neither participates in the discussions directly nor offers new ideas. On the other hand, the leader should be aware of all decisions, intentions, and thoughts that can influence the development of the company. Such ability to control a huge organisation is great indeed, and the Emirates Airlines’ leader possesses the necessary number of qualities to be a good one.

Comparison of Success Factors

The evaluation of both companies helps to comprehend one thing: Southwest Airlines and Emirates Airlines are good in the chosen sphere of work. Their leaders know what to expect from the team, how to set goals, and what can be offered to the employees in return. However, the services of the Emirates turn out to be an opposition to everything that is offered by Southwest Airlines.

The benefits of low prices should be compared with the reasons for why the prices are so high. Such factors as the geographical location, cultural preferences, and the access to the technological progress may create different working conditions. However, the evaluation of the two companies under consideration, it is possible to admit that even the global differences cannot explain the success of companies. That is why more attention should be paid to the quality of work performed by the leaders of the companies.

Southwest Airlines had different leaders. For example, the success factors of leadership demonstrated by Kelleher were based on the combination of the behavioural model and the contingency model. This leader showed how to introduce a successful group performance using casual variables, group atmosphere, the structure of the task, and personal involvement in work. In his turn, Parker was not that open.

He did not support the interactions with the team and observed the changes outside the group of workers. Such differences in work of the company’s leaders prove that Southwest Airlines has a powerful team that is ready to accept any working conditions. The only requirement that does matter is the presence of a good leader. As soon as the team is motivated, the success of their activities can be expected. In comparison to Southwest Airlines, Emirates Airlines prefers another leadership style.

Its leader focuses on motivation and goals that should be set and achieved in a short period. All team members are motivated to follow the main mission of the company. The leader provides clear explanations and defines the roles accordingly. He demonstrates how it is possible to rely on the Maslow’s theory of motivation and makes sure that customers, as well as workers, are satisfied.

Customer services offered by Southwest and Emirates differ as well. Though the customers of both companies are satisfied, the level and quality of satisfaction depend on the standards set by the organisation. For example, Southwest Airlines provides its passengers with such guarantees as safe transportation, low prices, discounts, and comfortable travel.

The company informs passengers about what to expect, and the passengers know what they choose according to their personal incomes. Emirates Airlines does not support discounts, sales, or other similar ideas. Their main goal is to provide customers with high-quality services. The team do not hide the prices. Everything is clear. That is why the quality of customer services of both companies corresponds to the standards set.

The financial situation of the companies can serve as one more proof that both companies are good at defining their leaders and considering the demands that matter. The tables offered in Appendix Section demonstrate the changes in incomes and, profits, and assets in 2013 and 2014.

These findings are taken from the official reports of the organisations: the Emirates Group Annual Report (2015) and Southwest Airlines Co. Annual Report to Shareholders (2014). Revenues have been considerably improved during the last two years. The companies have achieved success and continue gaining profits.

Leadership styles of the companies can be also predetermined by some cultural considerations. Southwest Airlines is an American company with each member being a devoted American. Though American aviation is not characterised by a number of ethical preferences, the corporate culture of this company is impressive indeed. One of the most crucial points is the attention to the people, who work in the company (Southwest culture 2015).

The representative of the company (Dave Ridley) admits that Southwest defines its employees as the internal customers (Peel n.d.). The well-being of each employee is valued a lot. It seems that employees are more important for the company than the actual customers. Southwest aims at creating the best working environment so that people can enjoy each day of their work and get support from each other. The positive leader’s attitude is the basis of Southwest’s work.

The leaders believe that if an employee is satisfied with the conditions under which he/she should work, a customer will also be satisfied. The company believes that profitability and culture should go together, and people can feel the treatment and care of the company (Peel n.d.).

Finally, the satisfaction of employees and the attention to their demands lead to a low level of turnover in the company. It means that not many expenses are necessary for training or searching new people. The staff is properly trained and experienced. It is one of the achievements of the company’s leader. It is not an easy task to make people stay and work hard all the time.

The situation in Emirates Airlines is a little bit different. The leaders do not find it necessary to pay much attention to its employees. It is more important to focus on the customers and create high-quality services for them. As soon as customers have excellent travelling conditions, the team can enjoy the results of their work with customers.

One more peculiar feature of this company is cultural diversity: more than 100 nationalities work at Emirates. This fact can be used to introduce Emirates as a global organisation and use various cultures, religions, and ethnicities as the sources for innovations, leadership styles, and business ideas (Button 2008).

In other words, Southwest exists for its employees, and Emirates exists due to its employees. The leadership styles of both companies may be defined as similar. However, the ways the companies work, the goals they set, and the methods they rely on are different. Cultural consideration, religion backgrounds, and personal attitudes of leaders to their companies are the main factors that should be considered in the analysis of Emirates and Southwest.


Both, Southwest Airlines and Emirates Airlines, demonstrate successful leadership styles and outcomes of their work. The aviation industry in complicated indeed: though the lives of all people depend on the aircraft and technologies used, the centre of both companies remains to be people. The main recommendations that can be given to Southwest’s leaders are as follows:

  • Cultural programs can be better developed to improve the quality of services offered to people from different parts of the world;
  • Managers and employees have to develop more communication to discuss the ideas and provide innovations together;
  • Additional activities may be developed approaching the example of the Emirates: Southwest may participate in some donation programs to introduce itself as a caregiving organisation;
  • Motivation has to be properly developed: despite the fact that the employees are provided with the best working conditions, the company should motivate its workers day by day;
  • Competitions may be encouraged as a kind of motivation for employees: as soon as the workers are divided into teams, they have to complete the tasks and demonstrate their best qualities.


Southwest has already achieved a lot in its native country and abroad. People, who work there, can feel care and quality of their leaders’ treatment. As a rule, employees are satisfied with everything they can get from the company. The comparison of Southwest and Emirates helps to comprehend that both companies have their strong and weak points. It is not always possible to understand what makes companies successful.

However, it is always possible to realise that something can be done to improve the situation. Emirates Airlines shows how it is possible to satisfy their customers’ needs and meet expectations. Southwest Airlines focus on their employees. Both companies are powerful figures in the airline industry that prove that it is impossible to focus on both customers and employees properly. That is why each company has to make the main choice and define the priorities at the beginning of the work.

Reference List

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Lunenberg, F. C. & Ornstein, A. C. 2008, Educational administration: concepts and practices, Cengage Learning, Belmont.

Maslow, A. H. 2013, A theory of human motivation, Start Publishing, New York.

Milliman, J., Ferguson, J., Trickett, D., & Condemi, B. 1999, ‘Spirit and community at Southwest Airlines: an investigation of a spiritual values-based model’, Journal of Organizational Change Management, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 221-233.

Peel, B. ‘’, Le Tourneau University. Web.

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Sadasivan, S. & Gramopadhye, A. K. 2009, ‘Technology to support inspection training in the general aviation industry: specification and design’, International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 608-620.

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Tierney, S. & Kuby, M. 2008, ‘Airline and airport choice by passengers in multi-airport regions: the effects of southwest airlines’, The Professional Geographer, vol. 60, no. 1, pp. 15-32.

Truxal, S. 2013, Competition and regulation in the airline industry: puppets in chaos, Routledge, New York.

Waite, M. R. 2008, Fiver service leadership: theories and practices, Jones & Bartlett Learning, London.

Young, S. B. & Price, M. 2013, Airport leadership development program, Transportation Research Board, Washington.


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