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How to Be So Successful and Happy You Don't Want to Retire
by Susan Dunn, MA Clinical Psychology

Herb Kelleher was on my Southwest flight the other day from San Antonio to Dallas. Formerly the CEO of Southwest Airlines, he is now retired and Chairman of the Board. However, he doesn't know he's retired.

We associate Southwest with “good feelings,” and its success has everything to do with Herb and with emotional intelligence.

Herb is known for his down-to-earth “everyman” demeanor and what the press calls his “zany antics”. This has to do with him agreeing to be emotionally present. Is he really? Since I met him, I simply cannot refer to him as “Kelleher.” Emotions are contagious.

Southwest is known for its friendly management/labor relationships in a rough industry. You feel, on one of their flights, that their attendants are not afraid. They’re “allowed” to kid around.

In the beginning, Southwest was losing money and had to either sell a plane or layoff employees. They sold a plane, the emotionally intelligent thing to do. In return, employees cut gate turn-arounds to 15 minutes. Using your heart as well as your brain is what EQ is all about. Motivation, as we say, is not a thinking word.

Herb also used the EQ competencies of creativity and flexibility. Meals had always been served on airlines. They were horrible, yet no one ever thought of not serving them. They were a ‘sacred cow’.

If you’re under 40, let me give you a modern-day analogy. The reason the turn-around is 15 minutes is the way people board the plane. If we hustled, or didn’t queu-up, or an attendant handled the carryons, we’d board faster. There’s no reason why we board the way we do except that we do.


He got on the plane with a big grin and walked down the aisle greeting everyone and shaking hands, as if 'this is my party and you are my guests.' He was obviously having the time of his life.

I was in a window seat and didn’t get to interact with him. I felt left out, which is odd for me; I'm not that gregarious. But Herb is contagious. Anyone who’s having fun like that, I want to be around.

He’s so approachable, when we got off in Dallas he was walking behind me, and I turned, held out my hand, laughed and said, “Herb, it’s you! Great flight, how do you do it?”

I wanted to see if he would still be friendly when “off duty,” i.e., was he Authentic? Yes, he’s Authentic! We had a nice chat. I asked him the obvious question and he returned the obvious answer – do what you love to do and love what you do.

If you haven’t "found your passion" yet, I recommend coaching. You’ll never be successful or happy doing something you don’t love to do, and the more you think that’s an oxymoron, the more you need coaching.

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©Susan Dunn, MA Clinical Psychology, The EQ Coach, Emotional intelligence coaching to help you find your passion and develop your emotional intelligence, both of which will add to your success and happiness in career and relationships.

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