Innovative Service: What Great Leaders Actually Do

hole-in-oneTake a look at a short list of renowned service innovators: Despite a Yale professor’s admonition that there was little practical about his theory, Fred Smith put his “C–” paper into operation and founded Federal Express (now FedEx). Michael Dell transformed a computer assembly business he operated out of his University of Texas dorm room into Dell Computer. Wall Street laughed at Jeff Bezos for thinking an on-line bookstore would work. Like the bumblebee ignoring the fact that (aerodynamically) it cannot fly, Jeff created anyway.

Innovation means “new.” And, “new” means different, novel, untested, essentially an experiment. New takes guts. New takes a vision of what could be and the tenacity to see it through. It requires getting back up after setbacks; going forward despite the catcalls and critiques of naysayers and doubters. This is the role description of an innovator. When an organization embraces innovative service, it requires leaders who help embed that role description into every person. Fred, Michael and Jeff could not have launched FedEx, Dell and Amazon without others around them assuming the role description of their innovative founder.

Leadership means influencing others to achieve important tasks. Influence comes most profoundly when it is achieved through modeling, coaching and supporting. But, influencing innovative service is in its purest form when mixed in the crucible of courage. And, the observation of that courage by employees and associates can change everything.

When the owner of my dry cleaner personally delivered my clothes to my house on a Sunday morning before I left for the airport for a week on the road; when Zappo’s CEO Tony Heigh took turns on the phone in their call center; and, when P&G CEO A.G. Lafley sat in on countless customer focus groups and interviews he could have delegated, the priority of a bold allegiance to customers reverberated throughout their organizations.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want in the universe.” His sentiment is relevant for leading innovative service. Be the innovative service provider you want your employees to demonstrate to your customers.


leadership development carnivalThis post also appeared as part of the Leadership Development Carnival hosted by Mary Jo Asmus. For more on a variety of leadership development topics,  check out the festival for insight from more than 25 thought leaders on the topic.

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