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Leading with Heart: My Journey from the Military to Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program


The thick drops of a Central Florida downpour pelted my windshield on my way to the Orlando Airport for work one morning. When I stepped into the concourse, I entered a sea of pandemonium. From the military, I knew how to keep calm under pressure and face a challenge head on. I took a big breath and put my game face on—this is where I get to work.


Working at Southwest means that it’s my responsibility to safely and reliably connect our Customers to what’s important in their lives, with a smile, and a little bit of fun. Every day is a new experience, a different problem solved, and an impact made.  


This is my journey in Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program (EDLP). Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program is an 18-month job rotational program that seeks to train and develop excellent Frontline and Operational Leaders for Southwest Airlines. Upon successful completion of the program, participants are placed in a Leadership role in one of the airports we serve or a Customer Support and Services Center anywhere in the Southwest system.


image1.jpegI was hired directly into the program after serving in the United States Army for eight years as a Human Resources Non-Commissioned Officer. From day one at Southwest I was welcomed with an array of learning opportunities that were both challenging and rewarding.


In the program, we complete three, six-month rotations where we learn all of the different job responsibilities that keep Southwest’s operation running smoothly before beginning our work as a Supervisor over a specific workgroup. I started my journey in Orlando as an Above the Wing Supervisor at the gate. In this role, I resolved escalated Customer needs, reviewed performance expectations for Customer Service Agents, and worked with Station Leaders to achieve Station objectives. From there, I worked as a Ramp Supervisor, training and motivating Employees to keep our airplanes stocked and Customers’ belongings safe. My last rotation in the program was at our Houston Customer Support and Services Center where I coached, developed, and communicated with our call center Employees. 


One of the most challenging aspects coming from a military background, was how to lead through complex issues, as well as how to exercise Leadership in the grey. Leading in the grey, where not everything is black and white, empowered me to better serve our Customers and follow The Golden Rule, even in tough situations. Through it all, my Coworkers were my lifeline through the 18-month duration of the program. I leaned on them for support, advice, and to always have fun.


The rotations really helped me get an in-depth look into the operations side of Southwest Airlines. I was able to live in new cities and meet new People and Customers. Participants in the program also have an opportunity to take Leadership development courses at Southwest Airlines University (SWA U), our state-of-the-art training facility. The courses helped supplement what I was learning in the field to be a better Leader.


My journey to Southwest came with prior leadership experience, but the program helped me to bring my skills to the next level. True to the spirit of Southwest, I learned to lead with my Heart. This unique element of Southwest Leadership sets us apart as a Company. Those lessons truly unlocked a new layer of my Leadership abilities that I never knew I had. I was forced to use intellectual and Leadership muscles that I had not previously used.




The courses at SWA U taught me Leadership—the Southwest style. We took specific courses on situation specific Leadership styles and emotional intelligence which help us to build genuine and authentic relationships with our Teams and Leaders. I also enjoyed this training time outside of the operation as it was a great opportunity to reconnect with other participants in the program and share our experiences with one another.


Through the experience, my Leaders were my cheerleaders, and they provided encouragement when I had doubts or uncertainties with decisions I had made. Having these outstanding Leaders in my corner truly helped me develop over the three, six-month rotations. I am so grateful for my participation in Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program, and all that it taught me about life and Leadership. My life was enriched because of this experience.   


I graduated the program in January 2018 and transitioned into a Team Leader role in Customer Support and Services at our Oklahoma City Reservation Center.


Applications for Southwest's Emerging Leader Development Program are open now through Sunday, February 17. To learn more, visit or check out our Southwest Careers Discussion Forum.


*ELDP is an 18-month job rotational program that seeks to train and develop excellent Frontline and Operational Leaders for Southwest Airlines. Participants are placed anywhere in the Southwest system for on-the-job training in a Leadership role, as well as Leadership training at Southwest’s Headquarters in Dallas. Upon successful completion of the program, participants are placed in a Leadership role in one of the airports we serve or a Customer Support and Services Center anywhere in the Southwest system, based on business need.

Rising Star
Thank you for your military service! We lived in Moore for several years when I was stationed at Tinker AFB and it was one of our favorite duty stations -- I hope you enjoy Oklahoma City as much as we did.
New Arrival

Thank you for serving! I love reading about these experiences. 

I applied for the ELDP 2019, maybe I'll be accepted next time 😌.

New Arrival

Hi Dominiquebyrd,


Thank you so much for your service. Thank you also for sharing your journey through the Emerging Leadership Development Program. It sounds like so much fun. This is one of the many things that I love about SWA, there are so many opportunities for growth. I am trying to not be so anxious. I applied with Southwest for a Flight Attendant position in February 2018. Although I have not heard anything back yet, I am still hopeful and praying that I will hear something soon. I love getting out and interacting with people. It is such an awesome feeling to be able to help someone in bettering themselves, which ultimately helps to better the organization. Becoming a FA is something that I have been wanting to do since my kids were babies, but as a single mother I had to way my options. Now that I am a newly single mother of a college student and one preparing to head to work for Disney, I am stepping into a new chapter of my life. I guess you can say that I am trying to adapt to a “new normal.” ❤️😢😂It is bittersweet , but I am so proud of my two angels. Now I can focus on a new career as a FA. Praying God’s covering over you and I hope to be joining you one day. 😁Maybe I will get to train beside you one day. 😉✈️😁🙌🏾🙏🏾❤️