We all have benefitted from the virtues of a strong quality focus. It has yielded us products without zero defects and processes with few hiccups. We get our fast-food burgers in less than 3.2 minutes; our packages delivered by 10:30. Our bottom lines have been made fatter by a strong allegiance to uniformity, efficiency, and order. Henry Ford would marvel at how far we have taken his assembly line productivity concept. Computers now upgrade passengers to first class instead of the unpredictable gate attendant. Self-service has yielded us 24/7 shopping hours.
And, there is more. CRM advances and voice recognition inventions have mechanized our dealings to a fine level of precision. We have dashboards that give us early warnings on wayward moments in the making. Our headlong focus on consistency has paved the way for clear-cut standards, benchmarks, and metrics that enable leaders to act more like air traffic controllers than ranchers corralling a stray herd. Correctness is good; and originality is, well, suspicious.
Ain't it great? But, then we have those occasional seemingly maverick spirits who brighten our day by being rather undisciplined. We have those who abandon the script, sidestep the uniform, and turn a customer experience into more of a treasure hunt than a tightly choreographed encounter. And, in the radiance and magnetism of that special magical moment, Wal-Mart efficiency loses to Cirque du Soleil extravaganza. Is it any wonder that today's customers are bored? They long for more "discount coupons for apple cider."
But, the leadership of originality takes great courage. It means the acceptance of a few "mad scientists" among our employ. It entails having faith employees will be good stewards not just good soldiers. It requires focusing on a customer-centric mission not just a rule-centric task. And, it involves resourcing and affirming front-line ambassadors to focus on the happiness of customers more than the arithmetic of the cash register.
Robert Greenleaf long ago used the term "servant leader" to suggest a new form of service leadership where the command and control of a drill sergeant was replaced by the manner of a managing partner of a law firm or medical practice. Some recoiled at his use of the word, "servant" which could imply "servile." But, Greenleaf's true meaning was that leaders should play a role of support, empathy, encouragement, foresight, in other words, a clear and present commitment to the growth and well being of those they served.
What would your leadership be like if you had subordinates named Lady Gaga, James Cameron, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, or Steve Jobs? We have about reached the limits of efficient service and we need to decorate that milestone with the addition of enchanting surprise. Customers want experiences with emotional connection, not just rational precision. The perfectly prepared cupcake of service may bring customers in, but it is the whimsical sprinkles of service that bring them back. And, it takes leadership guts to encourage service ingenuity and originality.