Business Leadership

Service Industry Leadership

Think leadership is the same in every industry? Think again. This article discusses what makes for a great leader in a service industry.

Leadership definitely isn't a one-size-fits-all skillset.

Effective styles of leadership in one industry don't necessarily carry over to others - especially professional service industries that require a rare blend of leadership skills to achieve success.

Professional service businesses - law firms, financial services firms, money management firms, management consultants, advertising agencies, etc. - require a specific type of leader because they face several unique challenges. Unlike many other small businesses, professional service companies find it more difficult to retain talented associates and are forced to deal with very demanding clients in an increasingly competitive environment. The result is that company executives are often forced into a managerial role rather than a leadership role.

Yet unless company leaders are able to function in a true leadership capacity, the business may not survive over the long term. To do that, professional service industry leaders must fulfill a number of key functions within their organizations.


Leaders of professional service firms are often ineffective because they are forced to focus almost exclusively on the day-to-day demands of the business rather than long-term goals and direction. This is especially important in companies that experience high associate turnover. Unless the firm's leader consistently communicates the company's primary objectives and future direction, new staff members will be left in the dark and unable to help you achieve your goals.

Associate Buy-In

Service firm leaders also play an important role in soliciting support for the vision within the organization. Although they are largely focused on practicing their craft, professionals want their input to be solicited and incorporated into the firm's vision. When that doesn't happen, they quickly became alienated, cynical, and exit-prone. But if you make an honest effort to include your associates in the process, they will usually become valuable partners in making your company's vision a reality.


Someone has to hold staff members accountable for achieving stated goals and objectives. In professional service firms, that job falls squarely on the company leader's shoulders. While professionals are normally task-oriented individuals, the challenge is ensuring they don't become so focused on projects that they miss the big picture goals. Balancing accountability with healthy working relationships can be difficult, but it is a necessary and vital leadership function.


Successful leaders are role models for others in the firm. This requires you to lead by example and personally embody the business' core values. If you expect the firm's associates to follow-through on their commitments and responsibilities, then you need to have an impeccable record of following through on your commitments to your staff. Likewise, if your vision calls for an aggressive plan of recruiting new clients, then you need to undergird your staff's efforts with an energetic attitude toward new business. But above all else, personal integrity is key. Associates can't follow a leader they don't respect, even if they find other aspects of their job rewarding.

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