Speakers Offer Leadership Insights at World Leaders Event

Gary Kelly, C.E.O. of Southwest Airlines, believes the purpose of his company is clear: “to connect people to what’s important in their lives,” he said Wednesday during the World LEADERS Conference at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Gary Kelly, C.E.O. of Southwest Airlines

Speaking to an audience of more than 400 in the University’s DeSantis Family Chapel, Kelly was one of several high-profile speakers who addressed the topic of servant leadership during the first day of the two-day seminar.

The conference, known for its unique blending of speakers from both business and ministry, offers executives from all areas of leadership the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s foremost leadership experts.

Kelly, who oversees 46,000 employees at the nation’s largest airline, said the thing he loves about Southwest is that “we are servant leaders because we want to be.”

He noted that Southwest has enjoyed 40 consecutive years of profits and has avoided bankruptcy as well as furloughs and pay cuts for employees. “I think our people have made that happen because they have been steadfast in their devotion to our purpose,” he said.

Kelly also spoke about his company’s vision to fly to all of North America within the decade. The company presently flies within the United States.

In addition to Kelly, Wednesday’s lineup included recognized educational visionary James L. Davis; James Blanchard, retired chairman and C.E.O. of Synovus Financial Corporation; and Ken Blanchard, prominent author, business consultant and speaker. Mark Floyd, chairman and C.E.O. of Cyan Inc., appeared via a video interview with Patrick Lencioni, president of The Table Group and a best-selling author and leadership/teamwork consultant.

Henry Cloud, left, interviews pastors Tom, center, and Todd Mullins about the successful leadership transition of their ministry, Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach County, Fla.

Christ Fellowship founding pastor Tom Mullins and his son, lead pastor Todd Mullins, participated in a question-and-answer session about leadership succession with Henry Cloud, a clinical psychologist, leadership consultant and best-selling author. The transition in leadership for their church was five years in the making, Tom Mullins said.

“We wanted to make the handoff at the strongest possible point for the organization and for Todd,” he said.

If he could have done anything differently, he said he would have passed the baton sooner. He recommends that leaders begin thiinking about succession earlier than they normally do.

“I think we need to transition while we’re on the top of our game, not when it’s fading,” Tom Mullins said.

Jon Gordon, author and speaker, talked about fostering a culture of optimism, which says gives a competition advantage to organizations. Gordon, who has served as a consultant to numerous NFL, NBA and college coaches and teams, is the author of “The Energy Bus” and six other volumes.

“Are you feeling blessed or feeling stressed?” Gordon said. “You can’t be both but you choose each day to choose faith or fear.”

Just as complaining is toxic and can spread a negative attitude among a team, a positive attitude can be contagious and uplifting, Gordon said.  He described the “magic ratio” of 3 to 1. A team that has three times the amount of positive influences or more will flourish. Teams that have fewer positive influences flounder.

Geoffrey Canada, C.E.O. for Harlem Children's Zone


Gordon’s three C’s of developing a positive, productive team include feeding the people around us with our contagious, positive energy; using communication to build trust and fuel commitment of team members in the organization’s mission and vision; and caring for people like family members.

Closing the day was speaker Geoffrey Canada, president and C.E.O. for Harlem Children’s Zone and an advocate for education reform.

Canada said he believes sometimes people become leaders “before they have really examined where their moral compass is heading.”

He said he believes that people should pay attention to who their role models are. “Most Americans want celebrity more than they want leadership,” he said

He added that his work with at-risk youth, in particularly young boys, has made him think about the importance of faith. “You’ve got to have it before you need it,” he said.

Thursday’s speakers, appearing live and in person, include Condoleezza Rice, professor of Political Economy at Stanford University, former Secretary of State; Henry Cloud, clinical psychologist, leadership consultant, best-selling author; Joyce Meyer, leading practical Bible teacher, best-selling author; Craig Groeschel, author and founder/senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv in Oklahoma City, Okla.; Bobby Gruenewald, pastor, LifeChurch.tv and founder of YouVersion Bible App;  Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water; Patrick Lencioni, president of The Table Group, best-selling author, leadership/teamwork consultant; and Erwin McManus, artist, filmmaker, author, storyteller, activist, innovator.