What do leadership and rabbits have to do with each other? Usually, not much. However, in the context of leading a team that needs to put the customer at the center of everything they do, I have a story that explains how they are. It turns out that a customer strategy that puts the customer at the center of everything you do requires letting your employees get comfortable outside the hutch.
Maybe I should explain…
When my kids were little, we had a rabbit hutch in the garden. I decided to let the rabbits have a go around the garden one day, so I let them out of the hutch. However, when I put the rabbits down on the ground, they hopped right back into the cage.
Watch Colin talking about this on YouTube:
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At the time, I had just taken over a call center in my corporate role at British Telecom. I had noticed that the call center culture had a lot of constraints, and my team was comfortable hanging out with them—like the rabbits were in the hutch. So it was up to me to get the team comfortable hopping around the garden providing a customer-centric experience.
Leadership is essential when you have a customer strategy that puts the customer at the center of everything you do. Therefore, I decided today we should discuss the five rules that will increase your effectiveness as the leader, so your team can hop to it, too.
The Five Rules Guaranteed to Make You an Effective Leader
1. Understand yourself.
2. Be humble.
3. None of us are as clever as all of us.
5. Build loyalty.
Let’s take a closer look at each, shall we?
Rule #1: Understand yourself.
I did a 360-degree training event years ago that taught me a critical lesson: the way I thought I was coming across was NOT coming across. This experience was eye-opening for me and the basis for this first rule. It is essential to have self-awareness to understand how others perceive you.
In my case, I learned that without this self-awareness, the message you think you are sending is not what is received. Moreover, this disconnect can create an impact you didn’t intend.
Each of us might have different strengths. We should then use those strengths in our leadership. At the same time, we also need to be conscious of the areas of opportunity inherent in our leadership, and we should work to strengthen those as required.
Rule #2: Be humble.
One of the biggest mistakes that I see people make is thinking that because they’re the leader, they are (or should be) the cleverest person. Instead, I would encourage them to remember that everyone has a job. The leader has a job to bring the team together and hold them accountable for their work.
However, respect is essential here. Just because you are in charge doesn’t mean you are better than or superior to a subordinate.
Of course, I don’t think having a chain of command is bad. Organizations fall apart without oversight. However, there is a humble way of doing that—and a way that isn’t. For example, defensiveness, refusing feedback, and continuing to remind people of the power of your position are not going to make you a good leader.
Moreover, many people think doing this makes them strong, but the opposite is true. Leaders that respond to team members with any of these behaviors have a reputation of looking weak and ineffective.
An excellent concept to guide your leadership decisions is never asking the team to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. It sometimes means rolling up your sleeves and demonstrating personally if you want to show people how to do stuff, especially a distasteful task.
Several years ago, Ken Blanchard published a book, The One Minute Manager. This leadership book stands the test of time. One of the key concepts that he explores is how ready your team is to follow you and, based on that answer, using one of four situational leadership models: telling, selling, participative, and delegating:
- Telling: This is how you do it.
- Selling: This is the benefit of doing it this way.
- Participative: This is excellent work; shall we do it again next week?
- Delegating: This is what we need; how do you think we should do it?
Depending upon the circumstances of the individual’s ability to follow, you choose that leadership style. However, the critical part of making this work is understanding where your followers are. Therefore, being humble and respectful is essential, as is adapting your leadership style to the present individual’s situation.
Rule #3: None of us are as clever as all of us.
Once you become confident as a leader, the best thing you can do is to fill your team with people that are more clever than you. That’s when you can start motoring.
The challenge is letting go. Your team isn’t going to make the same decisions as you. It’s a bit like a toddler that you can tell is walking in such a way that they are going to fall on their bum. So you have to let them fall on it (safely, of course) so they can improve their walking.
The other phrase that ties into this is leadership emerges from anywhere. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you have to be the leader. Instead, you often have to step back and let your team members do what they do best.
The call center I took over didn’t have this environment. Most of them had stopped contributing because they knew if they suggested an improvement that failed, the boss would have a go at them. Failure was not okay.
Instead, I would encourage creating an environment where failure is okay. That way, people feel more comfortable trying new things, hopping around the garden, if you will. Of course, I don’t mean an organization should create an environment where failure is celebrated or ignored, but I would say it shouldn’t be penalized out of hand.
Rule #4: Communicate.
Communication is fundamental. It needs frequency and to be open, honest, and transparent. If there’s bad news to give, give it sooner rather than later. Remember, over-communicating is better than under-communicating.
Management can sometimes treat information as a precious commodity. As a result, some see controlling subordinates as withholding information and putting people on a need-to-know basis, a short-term leadership strategy.
Moreover, communication has to travel in both directions. Ken Blanchard is the author of The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. In this book, Blanchard makes problems one encounters on a given day ‘the monkeys’. So, your team should be able to tell you about the monkeys. Then, together you can devise a plan about who deals with monkeys.
Rule #5: Build loyalty.
This last rule is critical. However, it should be a byproduct of following the previous four rules.
Some people expect loyalty, but you have to earn it. Therefore, you should protect your team and show that you are also part of the team. Moreover, it would help if you got to know them personally. You should know who their partners are, their home life, and other factors about their circumstances.
For example, I had a team member working in the office three days away from her wedding. She was (understandably) stressed and running around like a headless chicken. I told her to take the next few days off and focus on the wedding. Not only was this good for her mental health at the time, but it was also good for us because I knew her head would be back in the game when she came back.
Many bad managers misunderstand loyalty as a concept. For example, a lot of people think loyalty is something you receive. However, it is something you give, too. If your definition of loyalty is one-sided, you probably won’t have it.
Hopefully, these five rules will help you lead your team more effectively. First, understanding yourself and how you come across to others and maintaining a humble self-awareness can create a foundation for forming relationships with your team. Then, by understanding that your team members are individuals with different strengths, you can facilitate their career growth in your management style and communication. Finally, if you can manage all of these things, you can begin to build the two-sided loyalty that is a function of all great teams.
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