On our ‘Managing Change and Innovation’ course, we highlight the influence of Jan Carlzon on Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) where he was CEO from 1981 to 1994.

In one year, his incredible leadership skills took them from annual losses of around $17 million to a profit of $54 million, and they were named Airline of the Year in 1983 by industry experts Air Transport World.

His 1987 book ‘Moments of Truth’ defines that ‘moment’ as the first 15 seconds of a customer’s interaction with anyone in your business.

He said that we have 50,000 moments of truth every day, and if you manage every interaction to create a positive outcome, your business will be successful.

This is the environment he created and the mindset he demanded to achieve such a dramatic transformation.

Being able to leave good first impressions is a transferable skill

If you think about it, you can translate Carlzon’s ‘Moments of Truth’ mantra into any interaction in life from ordering in a restaurant, to asking for a quote, or paying for food in a supermarket,

If we aren’t treated right, we’ll take our business elsewhere never to return.

Let’s spin this concept slightly and consider how it impacts on leaders and managers.

Your reputation as a leader and therefore your credibility is likely to have been formed in those first 15 seconds.

Have you set a good example?

Jan Carlzon said “Setting a good example is truly the most effective means of communication – and setting a poor one is disastrous!

Have you set a good example?

What first impression did you create?

How effective are your communication skills?

Do your staff trust and respect you?

Do they willingly follow you?

How do you deal with mistakes? By blaming or as an opportunity to learn?

Do you ‘lead by example’? This doesn’t mean doing everything yourself and always being there.

It means demonstrating the desired behaviour and attitude. Being consistent. Being clear about your expectations. Creating an environment of positivity and empowerment. Praising and recognising good performance and dealing with poor performance before it becomes problematic.

These are some of the attributes and qualities that create great leadership - however the list of how to get it right is endless!

The following quote is from another well-known and highly respected business leader, Warren Buffet.

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.

First impressions really do mean everything, especially as a leader.

Are you getting it right?


Written by David Ross – Learning & Development Consultant


Impellus is a UK-wide provider of management, leadership and core commercial skills training. See our relevant courses:

Management & Leadership Skills

ILM Courses in Leadership & Management

Commercial & Professional Skills Training