Customer Service as Positive Leadership

While we tend to learn from failure, the positive perspective invites us to identify and ponder manifestations of excellence. It invites us to examine and learn from success.   I had an experience with exceptional customer service and pondered it for days. One night I had a dream and a new idea came.

Often I fly into Detroit and I rent a car from National. Last year it was clear to me that the company had invested in customer service. Each time I visited, every employee was striving to make a noticeable contribution. About a month ago I was way behind schedule. As I returned a car, I mentioned to an employee that I was likely to miss my flight. He told me to climb back into the car. He yelled to his boss to cover for him, and he drove me to the terminal. I was amazed.

I began to pump him with questions. In a short time I learned a lot. He is a veteran. His goal in life is to own his own house. He has saved for years. He was about to realize his life dream, then he encountered a series of unexpected setbacks. Instead of dwelling on his problems, he described his new plans for realizing his dream. He said, “You have to hold on to your goals when things go wrong.”

When he reached the terminal, I gave him an extensive thank you. To my surprise, he thanked me to for giving him the opportunity to make a positive difference.

I barely made my flight on time.

A few days passed and then, one night, I dreamt about the experience. I could see trainers delivering a course in customer focus to the employees at National. I could see my driver and his colleagues taking in the material and then practicing the principles as they interacted with customers.

When I woke up, it occurred to me that the principles of high-level customer service tend to overlap the principles of positive leadership. When people learn and live the underlying principles of contribution, they tend to find greater meaning in what they do. The veteran that drove me to the terminal was not putting on an act; he was flourishing in the service he was rendering. A genuine customer focus was making not only my life better, it was also making his life better. Then an insight came.

There was more that could be done for that man and his fellow employees. The course needs to be enlarged. Currently it is framed around customer service. It is really about positive leadership. When he empowered himself to drive me to the terminal, that man was taking leadership and he felt great about it. That same man is capable of teaching positive leadership in his home and in his community.


The investment National made in the training would pay off even more if all the employees were trained to instruct others in their social networks. As part of the training, each student could be assigned to teach the underlying principles in their home or community. They each could to be given an altered, more generalized course book that would help them teach the principles. They could be invited to then report back to their peers.

Why do this? Everyone wins. The participants begin to see what they are learning at work as a life philosophy that applies everywhere. They also see themselves as teachers of the philosophy, positive leaders who make a difference. The family or community members benefit. The company and the training company both get more visibility in the community. Everyone wins.


  • Identify an organization that gives you extraordinary customer service. How does it make you feel?
  • How does your unit or organization compare?
  • What would happen if your people were trained in customer service and also had the opportunity to teach the principles in their homes and communities?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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