All too often, leadership development is not taken seriously because upper management is wary of empowering those in the lowest rungs of the hierarchy. However, research has shown that leadership development can have a tremendous impact on the overall customer experience.
What Exactly Is Leadership Development?
The best way to understand what leadership development is by looking at an example, such as Southwest Airlines. When you fly Southwest, if you have any glitch in your travel plans you can walk up to an entry-level employee with a Southwest uniform on and have everything sorted out right there and then, no going from pillar to post.
Chances are the individual you approach will be able to help you without you having to find or wait on anyone else. This is an example of leadership development in action. Every individual in Southwest Airlines’ chain of command is considered responsible, and with great responsibility comes great power. They all share it. They know the boundaries and what is expected of them.
Leadership development can be understood as a culture that creates and nurtures leaders at every level in the organization. However, it is not as easy as it may appear. To ensure that bad decision-making is reduced, there needs to be proper training and education, catered to employees of all kinds. With training, you also need infrastructure to support your initiatives.
Your Chairman or the Chief Executive Officer is simply your average political leader. All of the main decision-making and critical activity is carried out by mid-level managers. This is because these mid-level managers have significant interaction with all parts of the supply chain and external stakeholders. The same can be said about their subordinates, who facilitate their work. In fact in certain aspects, the bottom level employee should have more power per dollar made than some of the senior-level employees.
Research has also shown that leadership development improves business performance in changing the way customers perceive value. Investment in improving the external interface of your company will have returns that your investment in technology, marketing, and research cannot supplement. On the other hand, even a little bit of effort in the direction of leadership development will be appreciated in short order.
This is a very important trend in the age of information. Empowerment across the chain of command is possible because of the free flow of information. This has allowed for concepts like participative leadership, or democratic leadership to take off. We are seeing decentralization in terms of power and responsibility. Customers have come to expect faster responses, typically from the single nodal point of first contact. First movers in the corporate world have come up with a strategy for training, as well as supporting leadership across their hierarchies.
Democratic or Participative Leadership Styles
This is not merely start-up culture anymore. Great leaders influence and align their company’s definition of quality so they can accelerate growth and deliver the best possible experience to the clients. Companies are getting ahead of one another and empowering their entire hierarchy so that decision-making is distributed. That is the concept behind the democratic or participative style of leadership, as opposed to the autocratic style of leadership prevalent in the past.
This new thinking is all about synergy. The interface that low-level department personnel have in their day-to-day work operations and their unique experiences are all valuable information. Empowering all of these individuals will bring together a more stable form of decision-making. At the same time, everyone feels like they are responsible for everything. For example, pilots at Southwest have been seen helping with getting luggage on board, just so they can turn the plane around faster!
Similar to Southwest Airlines in the aviation industry, UPS has made a name for itself in customer appreciation in the delivery service industry. Part of that has been possible with leadership development among all of its employees. This is demonstrated more than anything in its track record of internal promotions, rather than lateral entries – particularly in senior positions. Leadership defines the culture at UPS so strongly that even if the top were to be cut off, things will continue to move smoothly.
Yet another example comes from Google. Realizing the importance of generating leadership in its workforce, Google came up with its amazing entrepreneurship program, sometimes understood as “intrapreneurship”! The idea was to not look at employees as entities to control and regulate. The company realized it could maximize its returns by empowering them.
There was a time when Google would lose a number of thought leaders and senior-level managers, who would take off to pursue their own dreams of entrepreneurship. As a result, the company would lose more than committed, devoted personnel. It would also lose out on the immense growth potential in these departing employees. Today, Google provides an ecosystem for entrepreneurship for its employees. Provisioning of tools, funds, and guidance allows employees to realize the fairness that is built into the new system. As a result, several projects have started within Google, helping the company grow organically.
Leadership Development and Customer Experience
As we can see from these examples, empowering your employees often means decisions can be made quickly. This, in turn, can create a seamless experience for your customers. When decision-making is kept to the upper-levels of management, customers often find themselves frustrated as employees have to wait to get approval, transfer the customer’s case, etc. Simply working to thoroughly train employees and to give them a degree of decision-making, you can ease this frustration that customers so often feel.
In other words, by focusing on leadership development, companies can improve their overall customer experience, resulting in happier, more satisfied customers (and employees). So, don’t take leadership development lightly. You can start small, providing empowerment where it makes the most obvious sense in your situation. Then go from there!