Service Leadership: The Quest for Competitive Advantage


Svafa Grönfeldt & Judith Strother

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    To the two people in our lives who really understand that once you have reached the mountain top, the climb only begins.


    View Copyright Page

    List of Leadership and Practical Insights

    List of Figures

    List of Tables


    The proverbial, but true, story: Marty and his wife were traveling recently from New York to New Orleans on a combined business trip and 25th anniversary long weekend. When they arrived at the ticket counter to obtain their boarding passes, they discovered that their reservations had been cancelled due to a data entry error made by the airline's reservations agent. Unfortunately, they were told, there were no seats available on their original flight, and the best the airline could do was to book them on a connecting flight that would get them to New Orleans around midnight, rather than midafternoon, on what already was going to be a rather quick trip. While the ticket counter attendant was shrugging his shoulders, a fellow attendant noticed the commotion and came over to inquire. When he learned of the problem, he began to make phone calls, at one point having two phones at work, one in each ear. He was making calls, working the computer, and asking the original attendant to help in various ways, all, it seemed, at the same time. It took him about 15 minutes, but he finally found two seats to New Orleans, in first class no less, and Marty and his wife were on their way to a well-deserved weekend celebration.

    Now, what does another airline story have to do with this book? It's no secret that as we write, the airline industry is in dire financial straits. As every frequent flyer knows, for some time and for some airlines, the response has been to create cost savings by making service cuts of one kind or another. These cuts are felt directly by customers, thereby making driving, taking the train, videoconferencing, or vacationing close to home all increasingly attractive options, thus deepening the original troubles facing the industry.

    The airlines should read this book. So should our bank. And maybe even our doctor.

    Drs. Grönfeldt and Strother have melded nontraditional concepts of leadership with evolving business theory to create a new paradigm for what leadership looks like in a service industry environment.

    From our perspective, as authors, teachers, and consultants on leadership development, there are three core leadership ideas that inform this powerful rethinking of the culture of a service firm. These are three of the essential elements of what we would call a leadership culture in a firm, an organization, or perhaps even a family.

    First, in a firm with a leadership culture, every employee, no matter where he or she sits in the organization chart, with or without a corner office, believes and acts as if exercising leadership is an integral aspect of his or her job description. Exercising leadership is not the prerogative of those at the top.

    Second, in a firm with a leadership culture, one of the ways that leadership is manifested is that individuals take responsibility for the firm as a whole, not just their individual silo. In the Grönfeldt-Strother context, that means that a service problem in one department has the constructive attention of everyone with some stake in it.

    Third, in a firm with a leadership culture, leadership means exercising discretion, taking risks, and, again in this context, first meeting the customers' needs in ways that might well be beyond “standard operating procedure,” job descriptions, and formal authorization, asking for forgiveness later rather than approval beforehand.

    The significance of bringing together these two disciplines in this book goes beyond the service industry, and we expect that the model they have created will provide food for thought for practitioners and students in a wide range of business environments.

    Ronald A.Heifetz, Harvard University
    MartyLinsky, Harvard University


    Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what's waiting out there. We embarked on this journey without the slightest hesitation or thought of the road ahead, the obstacles we would meet, and the challenges we would face. We had direction, purpose, and motivation.

    These binding elements made impossible schedules, thousands of miles, and the scarce resource of time look like bumps in the road on our way to accomplishing our mission. The thousands of minutes, hundreds of hours, days, and months spent on this project flew by. The result of our efforts is presented in this book. However, it is by no means only a result of our work and dreams but a collective effort of so many people we have met and worked with in the past.

    We would like to express sincere appreciation to all those involved: our assistants Halla Jonsdottir and Ashildur Bragadottir who organized our world; the managers and CEOs who shared their experiences with us; all our talented friends at IMG Gallup and Deloitte—Gunnar Beinteinsson, Thor Karlsson, and Gunnar Haugen, to name only a few—who communicated their knowledge and insights; Jennee Saddorf and Michael Wahlgren at Florida Tech, who helped field test questions; and Edwin Strother, for his editorial expertise. We would also like to thank Al Bruckner at Sage for his helpful input and cheerful encouragement during the entire publishing process, Katja Fried for her developmental editorial expertise, and Catherine Chilton for her tireless copyediting. Without these valuable people, this book would not have been possible.

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    About the Authors

    Svafa Grönfeldt is Chief Executive of Strategy and Organizational Development for Actavis Group, one of the world's top 10 generic pharmaceutical companies. She received her Ph.D. in Industrial Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where her major focus was on service orientation and management. For the past 8 years, she has also been a member of the faculty of economics and business administration at the University of Iceland. Currently her work takes her throughout the world and is mainly focused on aligning strategy, structure, and the talent of key Actavis personnel on five continents and in 28 countries. Prior to her Chief Strategist role at Actavis, she held the position of Country-Managing Partner for Deloitte Consulting in Iceland and was a member of Deloitte's EMEA leadership team. Before that, she was a partner in and Director of Research and Development for IMG Gallup. Her consulting career has mainly been focused on leadership coaching and service strategic formulation, and her research projects include numerous occupational and benchmarking studies for companies in the private and public sectors, including longitudinal and cross-cultural studies.

    Judith B. Strother is Professor of Applied Linguistics and Chair of the graduate program in Technical and Professional Communication at Florida Institute of Technology, where she has developed and taught a number of courses, including customer service, public relations, and communicating in the global economy. She holds M.A. and M.B.A. degrees and earned her Ph.D. at Technische Universiteit Eindhoven in the Netherlands, where she is Visiting Professor for Special Lectures in Managerial and Technical Writing. She has conducted research in management areas such as crisis communication as well as in communication and applied linguistics, including specific psycholinguistic elements in reading and writing business and scientific and technical English. She has also studied sociolinguistic issues, such as the impact of regional dialects on first and second language speakers and the effect of cross-linguistic and cross-cultural communication issues and their impact on aviation safety. She has written two books and numerous articles, and she has delivered papers at many international conferences. In the private sector, she serves as an officer in Virtual Languages Learning Academy (ViLLA), which designs and delivers Web-based business English and aviation English courses for international corporate training programs.

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