Purpose: Given the emergence of servitization as a viable strategy for manufacturers to gain a competitive advantage, determining what factors influence effective servitization is imperative. Drawing on organizational change and leadership theories, the purpose of this paper is to identify the leadership styles required for successfully implementing servitization in Japan. Design/methodology/approach: Via stratified sampling method, 5,000 Japanese manufacturers registered in the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry were selected for participation in a mail survey. Survey data from 187 responding CEOs were matched with firm-level archival data, after which the matched data were analyzed. Findings: The findings indicated that industry type is important in implementing servitization, but firm size and performance are not. The results also revealed that charismatic leadership style is especially critical in implementing and elevating servitization, whereas autocratic and autonomous leadership styles impede this process. Research limitations/implications: The study fills a gap in the literature by identifying a notable relationship between leadership style and servitization. Because the study was conducted in an Asian economic context, which has received less attention in servitization research, it advances the existing body of research on servitization by breaking the former geographical constraints in this field of studies. Practical implications: This study presents practical implications for Japanese manufacturers who wish to devise a strategic leadership plan in the servitization process. CEOs of the firms can initiate the transition to servitization by employing charismatic leadership skills and convincing employees of the benefits of the change. Originality/value: The research is distinguished from existing studies in that it provides the first empirical evidence on effective CEO leadership styles for servitization in Japanese manufacturing firms.