I’ve been reflecting on how I made career choices over my years in working with customers. Some choose title or grade, others choose something they love, but I chose something I hate – bad customer experiences. Tonight I went for a couple of beers with a member of one of my teams who feels the same way as I do. We talked about life, customer experience, working with colleagues and many other topics. I’ve realised that whilst I’m responsible for such diverse team, I seem to surround myself with people who share a common interest – a love of customers and a loathing of bad customer experience. I got to wondering how exactly this has happened – was it great planning, a culmination of unpredictable circumstances, or just plain fate? I realised that as a leader, it’s all about nurturing the potential in people, setting them free from perceived constraints, and supporting their success AND failures in creating a new and better way forward.
Those who know me well know that I’m a bit of a showman. I’m not afraid of an audience, and happy to take to the stage to preach my message of customer passion. Sometimes I face a tough crowd, who may not embrace my message, but that doesn’t really feel like a barrier. Instead, I need to tweak and refine my message to bring it home to the audience. The tougher the crowd, the more rewarding the prize. Having worked across many different industries, I’ve learned that despite the bravado, humility is the best trait. Whoever I am attempting to engage in a conversation about passion for customers may not see it at first. I share a story, they share a story, and before you know it, we have reached common ground. That is when you “click” and then the fruitful conversation begins.
Back to my conversation earlier tonight. My colleague is really proud of what they do, they care about the impact they make, but felt a little held back from trying new ideas to make it better. Some simple encouragement and sharing means that they are now revved up to take control and try out a few new initiatives. Maybe some will fail – that’s OK, we’ll learn what doesn’t improve the customer experience. Other ideas will fly, and drive real change – not only improving the customer experience, but improving the bottom line!
As leaders, we are accountable for results, but powerless to deliver those results ourselves – if we are honest with ourselves, it’s our people who make the change and drive the results. Controlling and manipulating our people will only serve to stifle innovation and inhibit change. In turn, this will stop us achieving the results that we need to deliver. If, as a leader you are not able to step back from the detail and empower your people to deliver, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and question your status as a leader.
So what have I learned from this? I already knew that I am merely a facilitator of change, a catalyst to trigger improvement, but I realised that I am as motivated and engaged by creating that empowerment as the person I am empowering. Many senior people talk about empowering their team, but don’t follow through. So maybe everyone should go for a walk around the block / coffee / beer / cupcake with a member of their team to listen to their ideas and really free them to give a new way a try!