140 leaders share the lessons they learned during the pandemic – Interview with Joseph Michelli


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Today’s interview is with Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D., C.S.P., an internationally sought-after speaker, author, and organizational consultant. Joseph joins me today to talk about his new book: Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons on Thriving During the Toughest Challenges, why he wrote the book, what can we learn from all of the leaders he talked to and what leaders should be doing going forward, particularly when it comes to improving the customer, employee and leader experience.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – How can you relate to B2B customers when they more ‘hidden’ from you than before? – Interview with Jeroen Corthout of Salesflare – and is number 366 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my chat with Joseph:

  • The book is based on interviews with 140 different leaders globally that he undertook in the first few months of the pandemic to better understand their experience and what we can learn from them.
  • The book distills the interviews down to 20 lessons on how to prevail through challenges and setbacks.
  • The only thing we know that for certain is that there will be another crisis.
  • This book was off the beaten track for Joseph as he typically writes books about customer experience and, in particular, he tends to deep dive into iconic brands (Mercedes Benz USA, Zappos, Starbucks, Airbnb etc) and the experiences they deliver.
  • Many of the leaders with whom Joseph spoke to reported that in the initial stages of the pandemic they had lost perspective on self care. They were running on adrenaline, caffeine and a shortage of sleep.
  • Leaders often get lost in the notion that you don’t have to be selfless to be a leader. You can’t be selfish. But, the notion of taking care of yourself isn’t selfish.
  • Key lesson: put your mask on first.
  • Leaders have to demonstrate self care, and in doing so, you enable your team members to realize the importance of self care as well. If you run yourself into the ground tacitly, you’re giving the expectation to your team that they need to do the same.
  • One of my favorite realizations is that people were afraid that they would be considered non essential so they work to prove the essential nature of what they did.
  • Experience is an ecosystem and sometimes we focus on one part of it: the customer at the exclusion of employees. And, then we forget that there’s a leader that has to inspire and who has to take care of them.
  • Richard Branson has always said that the employee is more important than the customer.
  • On the other side, Jeff Bezos has always said that the customer is more important than employees.
  • Lesson from leaders: Practice employee obsession, first and foremost.
  • Managing demands on your time is a significant element of self-care.
  • Questions to ask: Is this all purposeful? Do I have a reason to do this call? Do I need to be involved with this? Consider arbitrarily cancelling or opting out of 20% of meetings to create space.
  • Without that white space it becomes very difficult for leaders to perform.
  • I heard from leaders that functionally they had to move their positioning in relation to their teams based on what the crisis need was. That was often counter to the familiar place they liked to lead from. They also had to resist at different times their need to be out front.
  • One of Joseph’s favourite lessons was that, as a leader, sometimes all you can do is be with people. You can’t fix it. You just have to be with people. Doing nothing is still a choice.
  • At the beginning of the pandemic, many brands were too slow to act. They were so worried about their brand equity. However, no one had any ability to lean on their past. They had to move quickly in the now.
  • So those roadmaps on technologies that would make the customer’s life better, they were just expedited. And, we jumped ahead five years on technological solutions for customers.
  • We don’t mind physically distancing ourselves for health, but we certainly don’t like to be socially distant from people.
  • When it comes to customer experience, make it technology aided and human powered.
  • We either change from inspiration or desperation.
  • Brands that deliver a hybrid journey (human and tech) across the journey and at all key touch points will win.
  • The spotlight is eventually going to turn on the employee space in the same sort of way as we saw the consumerisation of technology.
  • For the last few years I’ve been doing customer journey mapping, and then I’ve started doing employee journey mapping too. Now, I realize that I probably need to start mapping the leader journey in a way that I hadn’t been doing before. Ultimately, those maps need to be overlaid to create an ecosystem map.
  • Customer experience is not some outcome, it’s the constant improvement of human lives.
  • Joseph’s best advice: enhance your listening skills both at the listening for understanding level and the listening for feelings level. That should be through your technologies, your surveys, but also at a human to human level.
  • Joseph’s Punk CX word(s): Listening and delivering against what you understand.
  • Joseph’s Punk CX brand: Zappos.

About Joseph

Joseph MichelliJoseph A. Michelli, Ph.D., C.S.P., is an internationally sought-after speaker, author, and organizational consultant who transfers his knowledge of exceptional business practices in ways that develop joyful and productive workplaces with a focus on customer experience. His insights encourage leaders and frontline workers to grow and invest passionately in all aspects of their lives.

Dr. Michelli is a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Nielson BookScan, and New York Times #1 bestselling author. His latest book is The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community, and Belonging. Joseph’s other titles include Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes- Benz Way, Leading The Starbucks Way: 5 Principles for Connecting with Your Customer, Your Products, and Your People, The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire Engage and WOW, Prescription for Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Creating a World-Class Customer Experience from UCLA Health System, The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company,
and When Fish Fly: Lessons for Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace which was co-authored with the owner of the “World-Famous” Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

Joseph holds the Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association (NSA). He is a member of the Authors Guild, an editorial board member for the Beryl Institute’s Patient Experience Journal (PXJ), and is on the founders’ council of CustomerExperienceOne. Other achievements include winning the Asian Brand Excellence Award and being named as one of the Top 10 thought leaders in Customer Service by Global Gurus. He received his master’s and doctorate from the University of Southern California.

Having journeyed with a close family member through a six-year battle with breast cancer, Dr. Michelli is committed to social causes associated with curing cancer and abating world hunger.

Grab a copy of Joseph’s new book: Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons on Thriving During the Toughest Challenges, check out his site, connect with him on LinkedIn here and, finally, say Hi to him on Twitter @josephmichelli.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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