November 2012 2.3
Welcome to the November edition of the Unfolding Leadership Newsletter. This issue focuses on the dynamics of care You'll find:
- Reflective Leadership Practice -- A Principle of Care
- Leadership Links -- related articles and links from across the web
- Leadership Edge -- links to posts from the Unfolding Leadership weblog
- Leadership Conversations -- Q & A with consultant and trainer, Kate Nasser
- Leadership Odds and Ends -- More links to foster reflective learning
If you would like to review earlier issues, you can find them in the archive. As always, I appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
Wishing you the best for your reflective practice!
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REFLECTIVE LEADERSHIP PRACTICE
A Principle of Care
Long ago I remember reading an article from a quality assurance journal on where the greatest complexity and chance for errors arise in any service or manufacturing process. The answer was predictable: at the points of "hand-off" or "interface" between one organizational function and another. Why? Because these points often represent silos not only of function, but also language, responsibility and culture. The gap could be simply one where an agreed upon process had not been defined, but that gets mixed up with bigger stuff: a lack of open communication, old mistrusts, different lines of authority and power and misunderstood goals. The "errors" that pop up and the blame that often attends them are but symptoms of historical conflicts between departments, maybe even a kind of bureaucratic black hole where things have fallen through the cracks for years. At worst, the differences become so polarized as ways of thinking, seeing, and believing, that they become "ideological," reflecting a larger sense of disconnection and powerlessness. Think engineering vs. marketing, regional locations vs. the home office, front lines vs. senior management. What's incredible, is that people learn to live with these things in organizations and to work around them, vertically as well as horizontally. And before you know it, what is internal to an organization also becomes its external reality, with fundamental divides springing up between a company and its stakeholders and customers, perhaps ultimately between an industry and the communities it serves.
Just so, a significant part of a leader's work is to help overcome these divides, searching for better ways to bring value across the lines of separation by engaging people in understanding and collaboration. All this involves doing the hard work of reaching out to others, of reaching across whatever separates us.
What energy do we bring most to this work?
The other morning I listened to a fascinating episode of Public Radio International's This American Life
, hosted and produced by Ira Glass. The episode, titled, "Red State Blue State"
investigates one of the very toughest types of divides we encounter, that of political
ideology. The first half-hour of the program offers a start-up model for how to bridge that divide, spoken in the real-time terms of people who have lost friends, family members and colleagues to the fight between liberal and conservative philosophies. Their stories metaphorically also offer lessons for work within organizations related to many kinds of division. If we are to cross tough, ideological divides, we must
learn to question our own certainties (assumptions) about the other side -- thinking carefully about our own conclusions, why we have come to them, and the meaning of the words we have chosen to speak. We must create the dialogue to explore, ask questions, investigate with others who are not like us, not just live encased in our own beliefs.
In my own view, the work comes down to understanding that such divides cannot be crossed simply by convincing some "them" to think more like our "us." Differences in ideology may well be permanent. Therefore people of good faith, people who have the "desire to care," a phrase Kate Nasser uses in this month's leadership conversation, may give us clues to another way. Although she is speaking about customer service, perhaps a larger principle of care also applies to reclaiming a sense of real community and commonality. Crossing a divide isn't about making sure our rules are the only right ones. And, in truth, it is bigger than any single conversation -- although that's a good place to start. It's about remembering what's deeper down, what really connects us as human beings and how we can be of service to one another in the most fundamental ways.
In a month that includes a national election, a slowly restoring economy, recovery from a superstorm, and a holiday devoted to the giving of thanks, I'd say that principle of care is an essential ingredient, a matter of mind and heart and also a deeper matter for the soul.
Readings & Tools to Help You Lead
* Be Someone Else. Consultant Ginny Whitelaw's short Fast Company article, "Empathy Is the Most Powerful Leadership Tool" highlights the value of listening "so deeply that our own mind chatter stops" and we "can sense how the other's mind works."
* A Delicate Balance.
Well-known leadership expert, John C. Maxwell, helps address a common dilemma in "For leaders: balancing care with candor."
His list of questions toward the end of the article offers a helpful reflective guide.
* What It Takes To Understand and Feel Understood.
John Wenger (last month's Leadership Conversation) writes of the profound understanding that can emerge from role reversal work, superseding the tendency toward "'dry' acts of duty" in our relationships. Here is "Beyond Empathy."
Personal Essays from the Unfolding Leadership Weblog
"On Leaving Things Out" After a few pleasantries, the VP and I fell into a more serious conversation about one of his direct reports..."I don't know what to do," he admitted. "Ted has been here forever and I know he's waiting for me to retire so he can move into my job. But the truth is he'll never succeed me... Read More...
"Letter to the Chief Culture Officer" While the idea of Chief Culture Officer has a great deal of potential, it seems to me a real challenge (if the job is going to matter) will be to address the dark, cynical undertow that in many places has been dismissed and become officially undiscussable... Read More...
"Response of the Chief Culture Officer" Yesterday, I wrote a post...mostly a poem written by an imaginary person voicing the pain of the below-the-waterline organization...I believe there is so much complexity in these situations that there is no "expert" process, only a set of experiments and learning on the way toward a different culture, learning that often takes months and sometimes years to unfold. Here are a few steps to get started... Read more...
Kate Nasser Inspires Our Will to Care
Kate Nasser is known to most as "The People-Skills Coach™". With a Bachelor's degree in mathematics and a Master's in organizational psychology, she is a "techie" turned people skills expert, a consultant, coach and trainer whose work is devoted to building outstanding interactions that support business success. She works in at least six areas: customer service, leadership, interpersonal skills, teamwork, thriving on change and careers and jobs. Because her work applies almost universally, her clients are in diverse industries, including pharmaceuticals, insurance and finance. At the core of her work is Kate's own warmth, caring and forthrightness, and a reputation for inspiring people to change their behavior in specific and concrete ways. To find out more about Kate and her work, you can access her website, katenasser.com where you'll find her blog articles and video of her in action. You can reach her directly via email or by phone, 908.595.1515.
Kate, let's start with a great article you wrote recently, "Leading Change Within Yourself Changes Everything." In it you ask a powerful question: "Do you really want to change things or do you just want things to change?" What makes that question so important?
What I love about this question is that it helps a person weigh their feelings against their goals. There are a lot of things that can frustrate us and some of them can eat at us more than others. When I ask the question of myself or someone else it brings immediate clarity. If you are want things to change you have to do something yourself, even if it is a small step - take a class, talk to an employee about his behavior, for example. That step begins the wheels of change turning, and then everything else can begin to change, too. It's as true in our personal as our professional lives. And if I decide, well, I just want things to change, then at least I have that awareness and I know that I am accepting it for now. The point is that either it is no big deal or it is a call to action and there's a need to get past whatever is blocking me. At the very least, it stimulates a deeper personal reflection.
Some might find that question a bit threatening, don't you think?
Yes, it's true. For some it's personally threatening and may not work. But for many that sense of threat can be mitigated by tone. The question shouldn't be expressed as a demand or judgment. The way I often ask it relates to the fact that I, too, have frustrations, that all of us do. I know that I'm helped when I can hear another person share something about themselves - it allows me to ponder and reflect for myself. So that's the approach I use. I think it works because it satisfies a very human need for empathy. We think of empathy as something we do when people are angry or very upset. But if you give people empathy before they are upset, it takes your "customer service" to that person from good to great. You've offered the question as a means of genuine validation and support.
So let's talk about the customer service training you do in that light of empathy. How do you approach that work?
It begins with showing the people I'm teaching that I've been in their shoes. I teach a lot of technical professionals, so the first thing I often do is show that I know what it feels like to have to explain technical things in non-technical terms - all day long. The stories I tell prove that I've been there and that gives me credibility. But I also tell people the truth about their work. I communicate the realities and the standard. This training is not about how you meet general expectations, how to smile and be nice, it's about creating the ultimate customer experience. I let people know that they've selected a profession - not a job - where you are going to spend your day actively caring for others, offering empathy, patience and insight - all day, every day, week in and week out. The question I put directly before people is this one: do you care that much? I'm very frank about it. I tell them this is the role they've chosen, and if it doesn't work for them, they should honor themselves by finding another type of work. Sometimes I'll tell my own story about how I decided being a high school mathematics teacher really wasn't for me.
Kate, when you talk about that "ultimate customer experience," how do you teach people to provide that?
A lot customer service is actually taught the wrong way. The teaching must be from the outside in, not the inside out. By that I mean the ultimate customer experience has to do with the customer's vantage point, how they see the company. The inside out training that's done during the on-boarding process is frequently about a company's procedures, its products, and all about the company from a company vantage point. Then people are left on their own to come up with the empathy and inspiration. I spend a lot of time inspiring people to care before teaching them to smile. We spend a great deal of time on scenarios that I bring and they bring from their own real life experiences and current situations. I give them stories they've never heard of from my own experience or that have been sent to me. I ask them to rate how it was handled by the customer service representative. Is this an A or a B, and if it's anywhere short of an A+ they must tell me what needs to be improved. Their responses must be tactical and tangible and they must answer the question, what does caring mean in this situation? In a sense I'm asking each rep to experience the emotional state of the customer and then operationalize for themselves the concrete behaviors that define what it means to care for that person. This is where we really get into it.
I am assuming they also get that you, as the teacher, really care about them.
Yes, that's critical. I say to them, I want to give you the tools and every chance for success while lowering your stress. For me, the greatest thing as a coach is the feedback I get from people who tell me I've made a difference for them. That's the greatest - that's my champagne and caviar.
What about extraverts and introverts, Kate? I've heard it said that only extraverts can do customer service well.
Not true. The only people who I can't teach are those without a real desire to learn. For example, I remember working with a super techie guy that others thought might not do well with customer service. After all, he had trouble looking people in the eye, but the truth was that he was a tremendously caring person, something that had not really come out until we started working on teamwork together as well as customer service skills. Suddenly there was a certain magic in his presence - and he was exhorting the group, "Come on, we need to do this!" People saw him differently. In my experience super high extraverts can find the work just as challenging as super high introverts. For example, the extraverts may have trouble moderating their speaking. I've certainly had a few people approach me saying they can't do it, they are not good with emotional stuff - before the training begins. I tell them "I will give you a chance to prove yourself wrong."
Kate, what about those who lead customer service reps? How do you work with them?
In a couple of ways. I may consult on design issues for providing exceptional service; for example, advising against the use of people who are purely call routers. When people call, they expect to get help from the person who answers the phone, not be put in a cue for someone else. This is about how the service is set up, structurally and physically.
The other way I help leaders has more to do with keeping customer service reps engaged. Some leaders, for instance, see their role as simply getting paid to do administrative oversight. They don't see themselves as being a "cheerleader" or may feel that real engagement is beneath them. Where this belief is present turnover is often high. My approach is to encourage leaders to think of their role in terms of inspiration. I tell them their job is to actively inspire great service. This can be tough, because people may be thinking that inspiration is a one-time kind of special feat. I remember reading a passage from motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar when someone wanted to make a point about how quickly such inspiration wears off. "Yes," he said. "It's like bathing. You have to do it everyday." That's right and I would therefore add, in terms of leading customer service, you really do have to possess a calling for it.
So what does that mean to possess that calling?
I'm not much of a sports person, but I cannot imagine players in the locker room before the big game focusing on how badly they might get hurt on the field. Instead, it is about everything they can do to win the game. Or, thinking of the actors in a theater before a play starts, I can't imagine them focusing on how much their feet are going hurt after the show or how hot the lights will be. They're thinking about how to transform themselves into character. There is a psychological component to delivering great service all day long, and the leader at every level has to help others maintain that spirit.
Of course, on the flip side there are customer service leaders who are so focused on people issues and have such tender hearts that they are not able to hold the standard for others, and that hobbles them, too. An effective leader is always looking for the right balance.
And so how about for new leaders, generally, what's your advice?
While there's often no great emphasis on this in business training programs, I'd say the main thing is self-awareness. Self-awareness enables us to engage diverse others for maximum success. The more self-aware you are the better. It's a kind of a personal power that enhances everyone you touch. It lifts other people up. We're not on assembly lines anymore. You can't just tell people what to do, ordering people around. We're service, and that's different, and it has much more to do with engagement, that balance point we were just talking about. It's not about technical learning, how much you know, as it is about how to apply what you know, and that comes from within yourself.
There may be an element of confidence, too, for new leaders, but perhaps that is more subconscious than conscious to most people. I can't prove that. I'm still researching that. But if it is, I'd say it's a circular thing. Going after what you want builds confidence, and then confidence and accomplishment in turn build more desire. A Spanish speaking woman in one of my classes said to me, "Ah, you are speaking about ganas!" - and that's exactly right. As I understand it, ganas is the will to do something, your persistence in getting what you want.
What do you say to people who want to know what you do for a living?
With some I might only say, I teach people how to be nicer to each other. With others -- who I think will understand -- I say I teach people how to tap their real desire to care. That's what I do, no matter whether the people are in leadership roles, are team-mates who must give each other tough feedback, or are reps who have an unlimited number of others they must serve and must touch as human beings.
LEADERSHIP ODDS & ENDS
More Links to Foster Reflective Learning
* Want to Break Down a Few Global Barriers of Your Own?
Try härnu, an internet communication site developed to build a sense of community world-wide. Log on to find connections globally, learn, and develop your relationships. The site uses Google's translation software to facilitate communication.
* A Very Cool Resource. Standford coach, Ed Batista, points to a great collection of his articles in "A Self-Coaching Guide for Leaders At All Levels." Ed's work is eminently helpful, and as he says in the post, "99% of all coaching is really self-coaching."
* And How Could You Deny the Message? Playing for Change's fourth release brings musicians from around the world (including Bono) to share what we don't need -- and what we do.
|Click the image, find a poem.|