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Group leader with spyglass looking far away. Business team standing near increase chart. Vector illustration for leadership, challenge, training, planning concept

Questions of leadership are never far away, in public life or in business. In turbulent times such as we have lived through nationally and globally in recent years, leadership really comes to the fore. I have no doubt that when studies are written about the Covid pandemic, Brexit and other recent macro events, leadership will be one of the key lenses through which things are viewed.

But what makes a good leader? We probably all have examples of leaders at different times in our lives who we have found inspiring and motivating, whether that’s been whilst growing up, at work, in public life or another sphere. Are there any key qualities that they share?

Leadership qualities

Obviously, good leaders get results. They ‘bring people with them’ by setting out a vision, gaining buy-in and engagement, and inspiring people to perform. They have the gift of making others want to be a part of something. They are good communicators. They are likely to be confident in themselves and therefore comfortable about assuming a leadership position.

However, I don’t think it’s true that all leaders are necessarily extroverts and obviously strong or dominant personalities. Some of the best leaders I have known have been quiet people whose style has been unassuming and ‘unshowy’ – but whose strength of conviction and ability to connect with others has equipped them to motivate teams and achieve incredible things.

In short, leaders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and have many different styles. And of course, leadership is different depending on the situational context and the purpose you are looking to drive.

Taking responsibility

However, the more I reflect on questions of leadership, the more I believe that there are certain aspects which are universally true. And if I had to classify what these relate to, it would be to the responsibility side of the leadership equation.

Firstly, as a leader you are there not to serve yourself, but to serve the organisation of which you are a part. That is and must always be the primary goal of any leader. No individual is greater than the organisation; every decision must be taken with the good of the organisation in view. Good judgement is a pre-requisite of course, even if sometimes leaders will get it wrong and make decisions that turn out not to be the best course of action. The ability to correct course when necessary is also therefore key. Good leaders also provide the rationale for the decisions they make.

It is all about being accountable and taking ownership – which often is easy to say but hard to do – making difficult or unpopular decisions and always being committed to doing the right thing.

This means upholding high standards, both ethically and in terms of performance. The best leaders are able to hold their team members to account, but do so with empathy and honesty so that individuals are supported to continually raise their game and improve.

Most of all, a good leader applies these standards to themselves. They fully accept the accountability and responsibility that comes with the position. They constantly reflect to ensure they are raising their own game. Whether it’s through an external audit, an internal audit, 360 degree feedback, client/customer reviews, or other mechanism, they will listen to feedback and take ownership of areas that they need to address.

Service leaders need to stand up

For service leaders specifically, I believe these attributes are going to become more important than ever. Next month, we will release the results of the latest six-monthly UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) – and the preliminary data shows that it may not make good reading. Customer satisfaction levels are in danger of setting into a long-term decline. With economic conditions continuing to be challenging, there is a growing risk that companies look to cut back investment and resourcing in critical areas like customer service. But this would be a strategic mistake, as our research repeatedly shows that getting behind the service agenda has a clear and measurable ROI. As we see significant advancements in tech/AI and automation, increases in efficiency will be standard and no longer differentiators – the only differentiator will be the service culture.

Service leaders will therefore need to become even better and stronger leaders of their teams. They will also need to show internal leadership with their executive peers – defending their service patch and making the case for continued (and ideally increased) investment. This includes the need to speak up for the interests of vulnerable customers, who are likely to need ongoing, increased support during difficult economic times – another aspect of leadership which seeks to ensure fair outcomes across stakeholder groups and is part of the ‘fairer society’ pillar of the Customer Service Nation concept that I have written about in previous blogs.

Looking in the mirror

Leadership is often seen as glamorous – the ‘centre forward role’ in footballing terms. But in fact, it’s made up of many facets and some of these are not glamorous at all. Hard work, commitment and honesty are key. ‘Leading by example’ is perhaps the nearest way of summing it up in one phrase. Another phrase that comes to mind is what my father once said to me: “The day you can’t look yourself in the mirror is the day you should quit any job.”

Every leader, whatever level they’re operating at, should be able to pass the mirror test.


Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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