Tag Archives: leadership

Leadership – No Pushing Required

Brene Brown on leadership

When I was younger, I felt like I was pretty smart. Then I turned 23, was thrown into the fast-faced world of helping CxOs try to straighten out their wayward enterprise software implementations, and realized just how little I knew. My turning point came around 6pm on a hot, sticky, smelly evening on Staten Island in a conference room where a director named Mike Davis was yelling at a bunch of us youngster consultants. I thought he was mad at us, but in retrospect, it’s pretty clear that he just wanted something simple, and no matter how clearly he explained it, no one could hear him. Not even me, not even when I was being smart.

The customer was asking for some kind of functionality that didn’t make sense to me. It seemed excessive and unwieldy. I knew a better way to do it. So when Mike asked us to tell him, step by step, what user scenario we would be implementing… I told him THE RIGHT WAY. After about five attempts, he blew up. He didn’t want “the right way” — he wanted “the way that would work.” The way that would draw the most potential out of those people working on those processes. The way that would make people feel the most engaged, the most in control of their own destiny, the way that they were used to doing (with maybe a couple of small tweaks to lead them in a direction of greater efficiency). He knew them, and he knew that. He was being a leader.

Now I’m in my 40s and I have a much better view of everything I don’t know. (A lot of that used to be invisible to me.) It makes me both happier (for the perspective it brings) and unhappier (because I can see so many of the intellectual greenfields and curiosities that I’ll never get to spend time in — and know that more will crop up every year). I’m limited by the expiration date on this body I’m in, something that never used to cross my mind.

One of the things I’ve learned is that the best things emerge when groups of people with diverse skills (and maybe complementary interests) get together, drive out fear, and drive out preconceived notions about what’s “right” or “best”. When something amazing sprouts up, it’s not because it was your idea (or because it turned out “right”). It’s because the ground was tilled in such a way that a group of people felt comfortable bringing their own ideas into the light, making them better together, and being open to their own emergent truths.

I used to think leadership was about coming up with the BEST, RIGHT IDEA — and then pushing for it. This week, I got to see someone else pushing really hard for her “best, most right, more right than anyone else’s” idea. But it’s only hers. She’s intent on steamrolling over everyone around her to get what she wants. She’s going to be really lonely when the time comes to implement it… because even if someone starts out with her, they’ll leave when they realize there’s no creative expression in it for them, no room for them to explore their own interests and boundaries.  I feel sorry for her, but I’m not in a position to point it out. Especially since she’s older than me. Hasn’t she seen this kind of thing fail before? Probably, but she’s about to try again. Maybe she thinks she didn’t push hard enough last time.

Leadership is about creating spaces where other people can find purpose and meaning.  No pushing required.

Thanks to @maryconger who posted the image on Twitter earlier today. Also thanks to Mike Davis, wherever you are. If you stumble across this on the web one day, thanks for waking me up in 2000. It’s made the 18 years thereafter much more productive.

Expectations (and How to Violate Them)

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few months about expectations. One of the definitions of expectations on dictionary.com is “the degree of probability that something will occur.” In particular, I’ve been comparatively examining three different variations on the concept of expectations:

  • Consciously setting expectations
  • Consciously deciding on a state of no expectations
  • Developing shared expectations (a process)

You can set expectations with yourself, or with another person (or another group of people). Setting expectations is the equivalent of saying “here’s the way I want it to be” or “here’s the way it’s GOING to be.” Managers often aim to set expectations with their employees regarding concepts of acceptable (and excellent) performance. Developing shared expectations, however, is a process that must be done collaboratively. It is best accomplished when you enter into the process with no expectations or a knowledge that your expectations can (and SHOULD) change in response to your interactions with the people you’ll share those expectations.

Sometimes, expectations are implicit or assumed, and this is where you can get into a lot of trouble! Miscommunications and bad feelings can abound when expectations are violated. I’d like to give an example where I unknowingly violated someone’s expectations, and probably left him with tons of bad feelings. I didn’t mean to, but I think his expectations were unreasonable, and apparently he doesn’t. This gap in expectations indicates that we don’t share a core value or two, and subsequently suggests that we might even have difficulty sustaining even the most casual of relationships. I don’t feel bad about the interchange; it just says to me “this is a person you’re just not going to be able to relate to.”

The context: this person is an old Facebook friend of mine. I’ve known him for almost 15 years, but haven’t seen him in almost 10 – although I have talked to him on the phone a few times in the meantime. I thought we were relatively good and comfortable friends, but he de-friended me about a year ago. I didn’t think anything of it; some people choose to have only a small circle of Facebook friends or family, and I wouldn’t be in the small circle. When I called him on his birthday and he didn’t answer, I also didn’t think anything of it. But then, a couple weeks ago, I decided to re-friend him! Asked how he was doing, let him know I had called on his birthday… asked what was up. He sent me a short direct message that I didn’t have the time to properly respond to, so I was waiting for a time I could write a longer message.

About 5 days later I get this direct message:

I do not see the point of being on Facebook with you. When you first requested being a FB friend about a year or so ago, I readily honored the request, but then noticed that you responded to only one of my many messages to you. So I bailed out. What was the point, I asked myself.

Now you have initiated another friend request, I agreed, but then we are back to your not responding to my messages, whereas you are in dialog with others.

So, I am bailing out again.

“One of his many messages to me,” by the way, was maybe 2 or 3 public posts. His expectations, I guess, were that I would respond to each and every post to my wall, or follow-up to comments, or direct message. I don’t respond to all wall posts or comments. I do respond to all direct messages, but sometimes it takes me a while (up to a couple months, in the worst cases). I immediately recognized that this was an EXPECTATION GAP problem, and felt the bad energy and bad feelings, and realized that I didn’t want or need this discordant energy in my life. I decided to cut the ties as follows:

Wow, I didn’t know there was a protocol to follow! Since I’m certainly not going to be able to live up to such expectations, I honor your de-friending, and wish you the best from here on out.


It only took about 15 minutes to get a response (and yes, this is ALL it said… pretty terse, huh):

Expecting someone to respond to a sent message is hardly an unreasonable expectation. That is a protocol that is ages old.

Clearly, the issue is that he had some timeline on his expectations, e.g. if you don’t respond to someone’s post or message in a day or two, you are not responding at all. Second, by stating “that is a protocol that is ages old” it communicates to me that HE feels everyone on earth shares this expectation and always has. Not true; that is not my expectation, and I know of many people who feel the same way as I do. For example, I have another VERY good Facebook friend who I only talk to every 6 months or a year. A couple months ago, we arranged for me to come visit him in December, but I didn’t get back to him until just last week. Turns out his plans have changed, and we’ll have to reschedule our meetup. Did I have a problem with this? Not at all – we’ll be flexible. Did he have a problem with my slow response? Not at all – we’re good friends, and that’s the bottom line. No friendship lost, no feelings hurt – we are on the same page and probably always will be.

And it’s all thanks to having a shared, flexible expectation on how and when we communicate. Regarding the FB-defriender? Glad to not have you in my life anymore – what an energy drain you could have become. (But I really did mean it when I wished him the best.)

Shared expectations = good friendships, good relationships, good business interactions. Get there expeditiously, and everyone will be happier sooner.

Authentic Customer Service: Leadership Through Authenticity (Part II)

This is Part II of a two-part collaboration between Eric Sessoms at MyCustomerCloud & Nicole Radziwill.

(You might want to read Part I first, if you haven’t already.)

Let’s say you’re the Leader of a Customer Service Intensive Environment or a Customer Service Rep working in one those environments. How can you be authentic – and promote authenticity – in your customer service interactions? That’s the motivation for our post: we’ve brainstormed some actionable ideas for how these Leaders and Customer Service Reps can achieve authenticity by using the 10 Commitments devised by leadership researchers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.

Commitment #6: Leaders strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support.

Leaders & Senior management: The mindful leader provides opportunities for his or her staff to co-create an organization that can be considerate of, and attentive to, customer needs. To become mindful, leaders need to become comfortable with uncertainty, trusting that a sense of shared values will lead to outcomes in customer service situations that may not only meet but regularly exceed their expectations.

If a manager is confident but uncertain – confident that the job will get done but without being certain of exactly the best way of doing it – employees are likely to have more room to be creative, alert, and self-starting. When working for confident but uncertain leaders, we are less likely to feign knowledge or hide mistakes, practices that can be costly to a company… admission of uncertainty leads to a search for more information, and with more information there may be more options.
– Ellen Langer, Mindfulness

In the trenches: When managers provide you with power, use it wisely! Apply your best judgment, based on the values you share with the leaders of your company, and share lessons you learn with them regarding how to better handle customers’ issues. The knowledge you gain and share can help future customers, can help your leaders better craft customer-centric strategies, and can build trust between all parties involved. It’s a win-win-win-win-win (and maybe more).

Commitment #7: Leaders set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values.

Kouzes and Posner embody the importance of authenticity within this commitment. Both leaders & senior management as well as those in the trenches must consistently demonstrate authentic behavior and by doing so, set an example for others that encourages and demonstrates the value of authentic behavior in customer service. Put simply, if leaders within an organization want to talk the talk, they need to walk the walk. Authenticity is not present when words and actions are incongruent. So if you commit to a certain value or behavior – DO IT and BE IT! Otherwise you’ll be demonstrating authentithesis, and that’s way not cool.

Commitment #8: Leaders achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment.

Leaders & Senior management: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an organization devoted to authenticity in customer service. In fact, there is a lot of trial and error that goes into the quest to achieve authenticity. Leaders need to create and execute a long-term plan for providing excellent customer service that focuses on a tangible end result while incorporating lessons learned along the way. By appropriately setting milestones as part of this campaign, leaders have ample opportunity to fine-tune progress and promote continued buy-in from CSRs.

In the trenches: CSRs need to remember that every day brings new opportunities to achieve authenticity. Setbacks one day can vanish thanks to the successes of the next – and vice versa. A focus on important values, such as authenticity, eases the lows and celebrates the highs of our daily interactions with customers. To borrow a sports phrase, keep your eye on the ball. By doing so, you’ll blaze the trail of progress. Who knows, you might even inspire someone else along the way!

Commitment #9: Leaders recognize individual contributions to the success of every project.

Leaders & Senior management: First of all, leaders, it’s important to recognize that any great accomplishment is not achieved in a vacuum. Behind any wonderful idea or fantastic success, there’s a network of people who have cooperated and co-conspired to generate greatness. When you become aware of a great customer service story, remember that there are always hidden players and seek to find them all. Then celebrate their successes (see Commitment #10). Caveat: to be authentic, you’ve really got to appreciate the contributions – or at least the customer should. (Ideally, both of you should be delighted.) Don’t just recognize a success because you have an award you’ve got to give out this month, or this quarter.

In the trenches: Well, you’re not off the hook here CSRs – everyone is a leader. And sharing in the responsibility of that leadership means that you should appreciate others’ contributions to the efforts that you are involved in – whether it’s new strategies for helping customers, or process improvements that will help everyone do their job more effectively, or just a coworker who makes sure everyone’s having a good day. After you appreciate these contributions, let everyone else know you appreciate them. Good vibes are infectious.

Commitment #10: Leaders celebrate team accomplishments regularly.

Leaders & Senior management: Now leaders, don’t get too excited here. We’re not talking about those rah-rah parties where you eat cake that’s been inscribed with “Great Job, Team!” in blue frosting. Authentically celebrating team accomplishments means 1) you’re always on the lookout for truly remarkable examples of where customer service has been stellar, 2) everyone else is always on the lookout for the same, and knows how to get the word to those of you in leadership, and 3) you use those opportunities to demonstrate to one another that you really do exemplify your shared values and customers are happy with the help you provide them. Celebrations should provide opportunities to share knowledge and reaffirm core values. Not just eat cake with blue frosting (although that never hurts, especially if it’s with good coffee).

In the trenches: Any time one customer service rep experiences success, everyone experiences success – because the customer’s image of the company will be enhanced, trust will be forged, and you may be able to learn a good strategy for servicing a particular kind of need as a result. If you are a CSR, you’ll benefit from easier and more friendly calls from that satisfied customer in the future. Be happy for your fellow CSR’s successes, because with each one, they have just earned you “happiness equity” in case you have to deal with that particular customer’s problem in the future. Be thankful!

Go back to Part I, covering the first 5 Commitments from Kouzes and Posner.

Authentic Customer Service: Leadership Through Authenticity (Part I)

This is Part I of a two-part collaboration between Eric Sessoms at MyCustomerCloud & Nicole Radziwill.

Let’s say you’re the Leader of a Customer Service Intensive Environment or a Customer Service Rep working in one those environments. How can you be authentic – and promote authenticity – in your customer service interactions? That’s the motivation for our post: we’ve brainstormed some actionable ideas for how these Leaders and Customer Service Reps can achieve authenticity by using the 10 Commitments devised by leadership researchers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.

First and foremost, everyone in the organization must converge upon shared or core values – those principles or beliefs that everyone feels are important and worthy of merit. Usually, these values are determined by the leaders of a company, but in some progressive organizations and start-ups, core values emerge more organically as everyone collectively defines the organization.

There are lots of examples of core values, if you need to get some ideas:

Once you know what your core values are, and know that everyone is solidly committed to those values, it’s time to start exploring authenticity in customer service. This initial article explores the first 5 of Kouzes & Posner’s Commitments; Part 2 will discuss the remaining 5 Commitments.

Commitment #1: Leaders search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, and improve.

The search for challenging opportunities to change, grow, and improve coupled with an authentic desire to do what is best for the customer creates an environment ripe for customer-driven development. In a customer-driven development environment, the concerns and ideas of customers are carefully examined and any insight gained is folded back into company policies. As a result, the customers actively participate in defining the organization they want to serve them. Customer-driven development can occur at all levels of a company.

Leaders & Senior Management: Generate an atmosphere of proactive customer contact. And we don’t mean contacting customers with the primary goal being to sell them more stuff. Proactive customer contact done in an authentic way means finding out what (if anything) the customer needs or will need. Sometimes your product meets those needs. Sometimes it doesn’t. If it does, help your customer leverage your product to meet their needs. If it doesn’t, do a quick gap analysis and fold that amazingly valuable information back into your product development plans.

In the trenches: Ask customers directly how your company or products can be more responsive and useful to them. Then listen to what they have to say! Highlight how your product fits their needs now. Resist the urge to shoehorn their needs into the bounds of your product’s current capabilities. If higher management has done their job, there should be mechanisms in place for you to feed back what you learn into ongoing product development plans.

Commitment #2: Leaders experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes.

Leadership is fearless and daring – and simultaneously a practical endeavor that’s infused with a solid vision of where to go. That vision, however, can and should change in response to prototyping and tinkering with new ideas.

Leaders & Senior Management: If your CSRs have new and innovative ideas for how to make customers happier – set aside a period of time to pilot new approaches and techniques, even in they seem crazy. You never know what customers might really respond to, and appreciate. For example, try one of Kate’s Seven Kid Secrets from Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. According to Kate, the way to make anyone comfortable sharing their ideas is to use techniques that make kids comfortable sharing ideas. How do you do this? Ask them about their shoes (or something personally important to them). Offer information about yourself. Ask them to invite their best friend along to chat. Remind them you’re working on a “top secret” project. Ask them to describe their house or surroundings. Ask what they would buy with ten dollars (or half an hour of your company’s time). Make them laugh.

In the trenches: CSRs can be leaders too! Use your customer service script for ideas, but don’t be afraid to diverge from the plan to make your customers feel like they’re valued friends. One of the best customer service experiences I’ve ever had was on a two hour call waiting for engineers to fix my DSL service. Turns out the CSR was a retired homicide detective who told me all about how customer service is – and isn’t – like solving murders. It was the best two hours I ever spent waiting for anything. He probably violated his script quite a bit by telling me about murders, but I really felt like he was being compassionate about my ungodly two hour wait. It gave me wonderful fuzzy feelings about my telephone company… can you imagine?

Commitment #3: Leaders envision an uplifting and ennobling future.

Leaders & Senior Management: Positive attitudes are not only important, but infectious. If leaders don’t believe that their organization’s efforts can help make the individual worlds of their customers better places to be – then there’s no sense providing the support! If you really don’t think that the service you provide is useful, maybe it’s time to build a better company. The future is bright! If it’s not, change course – your bleak prospects will poison your customers’ experiences with you.

In the trenches: You have an image in your mind of a world where you can – and routinely do – make your customers happy. You share in the joy of solving their problems, and feel a sense of camaraderie and community as you do your job. This Commitment establishes the kind of attitude you should aim to bring to your store or call center.

Commitment #4: Leaders enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams.

Leaders & Senior Management: In Allen Schoer’s article, Uncovering alignment with authentic stories, storytelling is promoted as an effective mechanism for creating alignment (or common vision within an organization). In an organization for which customer service is an important component, leaders can create a cohesive culture of authenticity through compelling narratives that inspire Customer Service Reps on the front lines. In order for storytelling to be most effective in creating a common vision, Schoer reminds leaders to encourage employees at all levels to participate in customer service and tell their own customer service stories.

In the trenches: For the customer service reps that interact daily with customers, being leader who enlists others in a common authentic vision can manifest in a couple important ways. First, a customer service rep can appeal to the desires of the customer directly through authentic behavior. By listening to the needs of customers and folding their values, interests, hopes, and dreams, a rep works with the customer to create a truly customer-oriented solution. Second, a customer service rep can build a common vision with other reps by example. By consistently demonstrating authenticity in customer service, a CSR provides a model for others to follow!

Commitment #5: Leaders foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.

Leaders & Senior Management: In any organization, but particularly within an organization that values authenticity in customer service, leaders need to create an atmosphere of cooperation and trust. This means leaders should actively provide guidance to CSRs, empowering them to shape customer service goals. Sometimes, the best way to refine an approach is to temper it through constructive, third party feedback – and that’s the role a leader can play.  In the end, the overall quality of customer service will benefit from a closed-loop system where guidance comes from the corporate level but is refined through experience.

In the trenches: From a previous blog post, Getting to Great: Authenticity in Customer Service, trust between a customer and the company that a CSR represents results from combining authentic behavior with an authentic desire to do what’s best for the customer. Moving beyond a desire to do what’s best for the customer and into doing what is best for the customer requires a collaborative effort between CSR and customer – combining input from the customer and a sense of empathic understanding from the CSR!

Continue to Part II, where we’ll cover the next 5 Commitments from Kouzes and Posner.

How to Give a High Quality Presentation

I’m out in Colorado this week working with the NEON cyberinfrastructure team to put together presentation material for a big review meeting they’re having in June. It’s a challenging project, chock full of interesting and complex envisioned science experiments, elaborate engineering to design, construct and collect data from sensors scattered all over the country (and even airplanes), and the need for a high-performance interconnected software and hardware architecture to keep it together and maintain the data flow.

In short, it’s a hugely complex project – and for these presentations in June, we may only have an hour to condense all that technical information down into something understandable, well-organized, and compelling. How do we do it?

The answer: using effective storytelling. Quite randomly and serendipitously, I ran into a blog post by Chris Spagnuolo this morning (Twitter: @ChrisSpagnuolo) called “12 Things I learned from Story Time”. Apparently he went to the library recently with his 3 year old, and while listening to the story and observing the behavior of the children and the storyteller, extracted lessons for professional presentations. (I have a 3 year old too, so this post really connected with me!) Here’s a snippet of his insight into how to give a high quality presentation:

Ah, the expert mind…it always convinces us that we can’t learn from “simple” experiences. But after it was over, and I reflected a bit on Story Time, I realized that there were valuable lessons to take away from it that we can all use in our presentations. Believe it or not, librarians and others who read to children at Story Time may be some of the best presenters in the world, and we’ll never see them on TED or hear much about them (plus they have some of the toughest audiences in the world). If you really want to get your presentation game on, maybe you should start reading books to the itty-bitties at your local library.

I’ll encourage you to click through to read the 12 lessons. The suggestions complement Stephen Denning’s insights into storytelling as a leadership tool as well. Thanks for sharing, Chris.