Worrier or Warrior: Which Style Makes the Best Leader for the Customer Job?

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My final article for the year was due to address ‘Aligned Leadership’ – that’s to say what does it take for you to be a great leader in a customer-centric organisation. 

Then came along the US election. For the first time, our (British) family has been watching the US election unfold, staying up all night on election night and well into the following week.

As the results played out on Tuesday and Wednesday it got me thinking about the two candidates for US leader (arguably leaders of a unique group of customers – the American people). I questioned which of their leadership style and qualities would make a difference to organisations where the customer is the common cause or driving force. Little did I know that as I finish writing this article on Saturday morning (UK time) that the fight for US leadership would still be unresolved.

What’s my perspective as a Brit? I guess my nationality gives me a natural unemotional and objective lens on what’s going on but the point of my article is not about the US election, which simply became a source for inspiration as it seemingly presents the world with two very different leadership types, irrespective of political allegiance.

The ‘Warrior’ or the ‘Worrier’ as a leader?

Casting political doctrines aside, it’s interesting how Trump and Biden are (generally) perceived. I read an opinion piece that said that on the one hand you have ‘The Warrior’, Mr. Trump – the fighter, who doesn’t recoil, won’t give up, strong and dominant, likes to put a ‘spin’ on facts and can downplay the seriousness of issues and events. On the other, it said that you have ‘The Worrier’, Mr. Biden – who’s honest, considerate, compassionate, worries about people but is arguably less dynamic.

Translate that to the business and indeed the customer world, which style of leader works best in harnessing the organisation and its employees as a united team to deliver the best experience for the customer? 

I did some research across half a dozen articles which all claim to have identified the top traits needed to be a business leader today, a leader of employees, stakeholders, the company, and customers. I compared the combined list from all 6 publications with what I’ve seen and learnt in the real world of business over the last 25 years as a customer advocate and through my business consulting.

The A to Z (or U) of qualities, traits and behaviours

From the 6 articles that I looked at, there’s a list that can be compiled of 40 differing aspects that make a great leader in 2020 (understandably there’s some overlap).

The 40 are:

  1. The ability to inspire
  2. Being accountable
  3. Acting like a global citizen
  4. Being approachable
  5. Being willing to make amends
  6. Being caring
  7. Having charisma
  8. Being able to collaborate
  9. Demonstrating commitment
  10. Having/ exhibiting confidence
  11. Being creative
  12. Being decisive
  13. Effectively delegating
  14. Driving disciplined execution
  15. Effective communicating and being able to storytell
  16. Being empathetic
  17. Enabling those in the organisation to be empowered
  18. Envisioning
  19. Being flexible and agile
  20. Having a clear focus
  21. Being forward-thinking
  22. Being honest
  23. Showing humility
  24. Being innovative
  25. Listening and knowing when to listen and when to speak
  26. Being loyal
  27. Having managerial competence
  28. Being motivated
  29. Being organised and knowing how to stay organised
  30. Being passionate
  31. Demonstrating positivity
  32. Providing direction & sense of purpose
  33. Being responsible
  34. Showing a faultless knowledge of the company/products/services
  35. Having sincere enthusiasm
  36. Staying true to their word
  37. Being strategic
  38. Being trustworthy
  39. Understanding that CX is cultural, not just a project
  40. Understanding that their employees are also their customers

That’s actually a great list, but as I sit here in November 2020, which shortlist of these would I recommend to a client if they were looking to assess the best leader to harness an organisation around the customer and CX excellence, with all other things being equal, (I recognise in part it depends on the organisation, their maturity, their sector, etc.)

My top 5

I actually found it hard to get 40 down to 5. Many are interlinked, others are outcomes of others. But here they are:

1. Being caring

I toyed with putting “empathetic” in my top 5, but for me caring takes empathy one step beyond putting yourself in others’ shoes and connecting with people. You can understand how people are feeling and empathise with their situation but caring suggests to me something more proactive. So, in a customer sense, this would be listening to customers and employees on an on-going basis and caring about what they can do, to make things better. This is particularly important right now. I think it will become even more important in the future, for leaders to be considerate, compassionate, concerned, and thoughtful and it will set them apart

2. Showing humility

This doesn’t mean someone who’s meek and mild. For me, someone who demonstrates humility is confident and secure in themselves and their policies/beliefs. An article in Forbes describes it as:

“A humble leader is secure enough to recognize his or her weaknesses and to seek the input and talents of others. By being receptive to outside ideas and assistance, creative leaders open up new avenues for the organization and their employees. Strong leaders wear their humility lightly, and they rarely showcase either their genius or their humility. Hence the paradox of humility”.

This kind of leader is more likely to put their employees, peers, and customers first, to collaborate and be a team player and leader.

3. Being honest

This one doesn’t really need much explanation but customers and employees, (in fact everyone) prefer people to be honest and clear. We like to know where we stand, what’s going on, so that we can manage our own lives and situations. If you’re honest, you’re more likely to be trustworthy, have the commitment of others, and build enduring relationships.

As Abraham Lincoln famously said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

4. Having focus

Focus brings consistency to the organisation, stakeholders, brand, and customers but also allows for flexibility and spontaneity as we deal with change and the unexpected and lead during these times.

This brought to mind the brilliant Netflix mini-series that I’ve just watched ‘The Queen’s Gambit’.How Beth, the protagonist, can visualise her potential moves and options. She can then work through the impact of her actions in any given scenario and decide where she should place her focus and how to proceed.

5. Being a storyteller

It’s a real skill to be able to interpret facts, data, and insight and effectively communicate at all levels of the organisation. The best customer leaders know exactly who needs to know what information, how that needs to be packaged or ‘told’ and how that will help empower people, enabling them to then deliver what’s best for both the organisation and the customer.

What’s Your Plan?

If you want to be a customer-focused leader or wish to recruit someone into such a role, are these the five overarching qualities that you would most value? If so, the first step would be to see if there are any real or perceived quality gaps. Once aware of these gaps, you could consider which development interventions are most suitable to the individual to bring the behavioural change that’s necessary. This could be through coaching, mentoring, shadowing or another method.

What might the quality, train, or behaviour gaps of the two candidates, Messieurs Trump or Biden? If you were a customer of the American president, which of would you choose– the Worrier or the Warrior – to lead you through the current difficulties and into 2021 and beyond?

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