must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders."
-Robert Townsend, Up the Organization
Leadership has been around
since time began. It has taken many shapes and forms and gone through many changes
over the centuries. In the 1980's Wess Roberts wrote a book entitled Leadership
Secrets of Attila the Hun. Although it did make some points of the dos and don'ts
of leadership, what it failed to point out was that Attila the Hun was a ruthless
human being with a take-no-prisoners philosophy. Certainly not a leadership
philosophy that is healthy or one that encourages staff development. According
to Larry Wilson in Stop Selling, Start Partnering, "Leaders are focused on vision,
mission, and, most important, people. Contrary to popular belief, they are not
autocrats; they are not in the position to be served, they are there to serve."
This is certainly a reversal from the days of Attila the Hun or Ebenezer Scrooge
when workers were expected to shut-up, put-up and perform or be fired. There
was a time when most organizational leaders were at the top of the hierarchy.
They were autocratic, and focused on the powers they had as a leader, not the
individual employees. Leaders of the past were strong believers in the chain
of command and were very bureaucratic.
In order to survive in the
new century, leaders know instinctively, that it is no longer "management as
usual." Leadership is a key element to make an organization effective, especially
in the customer care realm. Leaders within organizations are responsible for
seeing what needs to be done in the future and then getting out of the way of
staff so they may implement the changes in order to serve the customer at an
optimum level. Strong and capable leaders formulate an organizations vision,
stabilizes and/or creates a solid organizational foundation and structure and
then create an environment where individuals truly want to do their best work
for their clients, teammates and the business.
Let's examine the qualities
a leader in the 21st Century will need to lead their staff, provide optimum
customer care and succeed in our rapidly and ever changing business world. As
a 21st Century leader, you will need to:
- Have visionary ability
to see the big picture. True leaders see possibilities. They are able
to motivate staff and key players toward the future. Employees need a clear
idea of where the organization is going and why it is important for them to
help implement the vision. Simply stating this is the organizational vision
is not enough. It must be repeated regularly, visualized; conceptualized and
embraced by staff so they understand why it is important for them, the customer
and the organization and how ultimately they will personally benefit from
the creation of the vision.
- Surround yourself
with people who complement your weaknesses. Secure
leaders are not afraid to acknowledge their weaknesses and surround themselves
with individuals who have strong skills in their weak areas. When an organization
has a solid foundation, it is able to satisfy all client needs. That means
regardless of the challenge, there is someone within the organization able
to work effectively with each customer and their individual challenge.
- Take risks.
To move forward, you must be willing to risk. It does not mean making decisions
based on minimal information or that defy logic. It does mean, however, that
you are willing to support the recommendations of your staff and are able
to let them move forward on a project using their expertise, not yours.
- Walk your talk.
According to John Huey, "Ninety-five percent of American managers today say
the right thing. Five percent do it." If you don't walk your talk, you are
not believable. Every fiber of your being as a leader is on the line everyday
if you do not practice what you encourage staff to do.
- Be not afraid to say,
"I goofed". Your
willingness to admit to others your mistakes is a direct indication to staff
that you are humble and vulnerable. Additionally, when you are willing to
admit mistakes, their trust in you soars. Staff will also take calculated
risks that are vital for growth within an organization, knowing they will
not be punished or condemned for mistakes they may make along the way.
- Know the strengths
and weaknesses of your people.
In order to grow your team and the individual members, you must know the abilities
of your staff. That means a clear understanding of their knowledge, ability
and skills. Structure your leadership style and individualized training and
development programs for each team member. The better you know your staff
and their abilities, the more you will be able to help them.
- Empower your staff.
Nordstrom's has one organizational rule: "Use your good judgment in all situations.
There will be no additional rules." Nordstrom's trainings their staff to provide
optimum satisfaction for each and every customer. Once the employee is trained,
management steps back and let the individual do their job without interference
or constant meddling. When staff is empowered to do their job, their self-esteem
soars, clients are happier since their needs are fulfill immediately and organizations
- Grow your staff.
Most employees want to succeed. A strong leader helps others grow by providing
support, training, resources and guidance to help the employees. Granted you
may ultimately lose the individual to another organization, but in the meantime,
your business is directly benefiting from their increased skill level.
- Delegate. Strong
leaders are not afraid to delegate. Individuals develop when they are given
new and additional tasks to perform. Additionally, an organization that is
managed by a leader who is unwilling to give up control will never increase
in size, nor will the clientele be satisfied since decisions cannot be made
without the boss's approval.
- Communicate clearly.
Communications is a never-ending process. Most managers spend at least 60%
of any given day communicating with others. Eighty percent of that time is
spent listening to others. Successful leaders are able to constantly communicate
the organization's vision at all levels. Additionally they are able to understand
the information being presented to them from a variety of sources and then
present it in a manner that everyone understands.
- Be available and visible.
One of the most stirring moments in the movie Gettysburg was when General
Robert E. Lee got on his horse and went to be with his troops. He knew his
appearance would motivate them and provide emotional support for the long
battle that lay ahead. Employees of today are no different. They want to see
their leaders. They want to know the leader cares about them as individuals
and that they understand the challenges they are encountering on a daily basis.
This can only be accomplished if the leader is available to the staff and
has first hand knowledge of the tasks and duties the employees is performing.
- Lead with integrity.
People only trust leaders who are honest and fair. Employees need to know
and believe they will be treated equitably. A successful leader is willing
to be vulnerable in order to win the trust of their staff. Additionally, honesty
creates trust within the organization, employees, clients, suppliers and the
It has long been my contention
that how leaders within an organization treat their employees is how the staff
will respond to the internal and external customer. If an organization wants
employees who are not afraid to risk, are willing to go the extra mile for the
customer and want to be part of the business' success, then they must provide
leaders who are willing to walk their talk, can communicate a vision and are
willing grow and embrace the abilities of everyone.
For permission to print
The Service Difference: Leadership in your company newsletter or professional
journal contact Eileen.
© 2000 Eileen O. Brownell. All Rights Reserved.