If you think that Richard Branson had the first and last word on lessons for leadership and management from the airline industry, then think again.
Moments of Truth summarises the strategies employed by Jan Carlzon (CEO and President) that led to the dramatic turnaround of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) during the early 1980s. The key to Carlzon's success was that he and his team had a clear vision for SAS (that it would be "the best airline for the frequent business traveller" p.23) and that he was able to communicate this to the whole organisation. Carlzon transformed SAS by doing away with the traditional hierarchical management structure, flattening the pyramid to empower key personnel on the ground to make decisions so they can provide excellent customer service. The result was that "people throughout the company were able to see (the vision of top management) and take the initiative to put the pieces where they belonged." (p.26). The result was that Carlzon was able to shift SAS to become a customer-driven organisation that not only moved from loss to profit, but also became one of the best airlines in the world. The title "moments of truth" refers to those few key encounters between customers and key employees on the ground, on the basis of which the reputation of the whole organisation is judged (check-in assistants, air hostesses, baggage handlers etc).
Carlzon's approach challenged traditional approaches to leadership and management:
"By defining clear goals and strategies and then communicating them to his employees and training them to take responsibility for reaching those goals, the leader can create a secure working environment that fosters flexibility and innovation. Thus, the new leader is a listener, communicator, and an educator - an emotionally expressive and inspiring person who can create the right atmosphere rather than make all the decisions himself" (p.35-6).
Although Moments of Truth was published 25 years ago, this book has stood the test of time and is an excellent and honest account of how one man transformed an organisation by harnessing its collective wisdom. The leadership and management principles that he employs have been picked up in books like Liz Wiseman's Multipliers and have a greater relevance and currency today.