A 7 Cs model of effective service leadership

Tracy X.P. Zou (Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, The University of Hong Kong, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong)
Robin S. Snell (Department of Management, Lingnan University, Hong Kong)
Maureen Y.L. Chan (Student Affairs Office, The Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
Amy L.Y. Wong (Lingnan University, Hong Kong)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Publication date: 6 August 2018



The purpose of this paper is to identify attributes and practices that are salient for effectiveness in middle- and senior-level service leadership positions.


Critical incident interviews were conducted with 17 key informants, who were service leaders in various service sectors in Hong Kong, and with ten stakeholders.


Grounded theory analysis generated a 7 Cs model with seven categories of service leadership attributes and practices: character, choreography, care, creativity, charisma, collaborating and competence self-improvement, and 24 constituent concepts. There was concordance between pairs of key informants and stakeholders.

Research limitations/implications

Further research could investigate the impact on frontline service leaders’ performance if one or more of the 7 Cs are perceived to be absent or deficient among leaders at more senior levels, and whether there are acceptable substitutes for particular Cs.

Practical implications

The 7 Cs model identifies service leadership attributes and practices across diverse sectors.


The 7 Cs model provides a map for orienting the developmental preparation of individuals, who are aspiring to become middle- and senior-level leaders in economies that have become highly dependent on service.



The authors would like to express their deepest gratitude to Victor and William Fung Foundation for funding this study. Thanks are also owed to all the interviewees that shared with the authors their experiences and thoughts and the authors’ student helpers that transcribed the audio-recordings.


Zou, T., Snell, R., Y.L. Chan, M. and Wong, A. (2018), "A 7 Cs model of effective service leadership", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 39 No. 6, pp. 745-761. https://doi.org/10.1108/LODJ-01-2018-0048

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