Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Where's the Leadership?

A lesson in How Not To Lead...

I had the most frustrating customer service interaction yesterday. When I expressed my concerns and asked to speak with a manager, hoping to get some resolution to the problem, I witnessed a complete lack of leadership. Without divulging the gory details, here is the gist of the encounter:

I approached the customer Service desk and was ignored for about 10 minutes. There were three representatives working, and only two customers ahead of me. I stood in line and waited patiently. When it was my turn, no one recognized me and offered assistance. Finally, one of the representatives looked at me and asked if I "needed something."

I began to explain the problem. Before I could finish, the representative told me, in a pretty defensive way, it would cost me $45. When I asked why, she explained that if I used the insurance I was paying for, it would be $85. She did this smugly, and she never explained the $45 charge. When I asked again about the charge, she told me "that is the way it is." I was so completely annoyed that I asked, politely, if I could speak with a manager.

The manager, instead of apologizing for any inconvenience, and taking the opportunity to hear my concerns, hastily explained the policy. He did not take the opportunity to educate me as to my options. Nor did he offer any incentives to continue using the service. He merely reiterated that there would be a $45 fee. As I was about to leave, and pretty upset by this point, he did mention that a warranty claim would be placed. If the manufacturer deemed it to be a legitimate warranty claim, the $45 fee would be credited to my account. I explained that if I had been told that from the beginning, I would not have been upset. He walked away without saying a word. Want to know the kicker?

After he walked away, the representative told me that they would only credit $35--she had the same smug, "you're going to pay anyway" expression. Why is it still going to cost me $10? I'll likely never know.

The manager had a real opportunity here. Not only could he have helped me understand the fees (I'm agreeable to paying them if they are reasonable and I understand their purpose), but, had he taken the time to work with me, he might have arrived at an agreeable solution for both of us. In the process, he would have been modeling excellent customer service behavior and empowering his staff to take ownership of the claims process. He might have turned me into an evangelist for his company, and I would have been writing about my positive experience. Instead, he reinforced the representative's Us vs. Them mentality and has ensured future difficult situations.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Congratulations to the LEAP Class of 2007

You did it! It has been a wonderful year, and you have proven yourselves worthy of leadership roles in our system. I was very impressed with the hard work you put into your projects, and the presentations were excellent.

I have to admit, I was very moved by the speeches Dean and Laura made. Dean used his talent of drawing analogies to illustrate his thoughts, and obviously, he has put a lot of time and consideration into self examination. Laura's speech was heartfelt and underscored the fact that she has really valued this experience. I was so moved by it, that I have asked her permission to post it here. With wit and humor, and a lot of sincerity, I think it speaks volumes about the program. Here it is in its entirety:

Good afternoon, everyone. Fellow graduates.

So, Damone, you never told us where prom is going to be held. Wait, there was no prom committee? Dude – I bought a dress and everything.

What strikes me most about our whole LEAP experience is not so much the particular sessions we attended, the networking we’ve done, or the projects we’ve worked on in and of themselves. What I seem to recall most vividly is each one of us on our first BIG PRESENTATION day, “A Day in the Life.” As we all one by one stepped up in front of the class to speak, that’s when I really began to notice each of our distinct personalities (or perhaps facets of our “Leadership Qualities,” as our first session’s facilitator Jeanne Carr would say) begin to emerge. Dean, eager and idealistic. Twan, somewhat shy, but resolute and steady. LeAnn, creative and focused.

Nathan, self-assured and (to lift a StrengthFinder term completely) full of Woo. Lillian, empathetic and analytical. Linda, inquisitive with a quiet confidence. Keshia, responsible and adaptable. (And on a beach somewhere holding a fruity drink with an umbrella in it.) Carolyn, enthusiastic and easy-going. And as we progressed further into the year, it became clear that all of us showed in some way and by varying degrees, all of the great qualities I mentioned.

What also strikes me is how amazingly ego-less our group is, not that I expected any egos to dominate. We are genuinely supportive of each other and want each other to do well, and I believe that comes from a shared sense of why we applied to LEAP, and ultimately why each of us came to work for the Library. I don’t think any of us, upon entering the program, had any delusions of being on the fast-track to the upper echelon of administration. Well, except maybe Carolyn. What we did (and still do) have is a genuine desire to make things better. For me, I saw LEAP not as a program to turn us into leaders. In my mind, we were chosen because in some capacity, we already possessed the criteria of true leaders:

  • The ability to think out loud.
  • The ability to pinpoint concerns and give voice to them.
  • The ability to acknowledge and promote what works.
  • The ability to keep an open mind and not simply accept things as “status quo.”
  • The ability to always grow, to always change, to always improve.
  • The ability to expect the best from yourself and from others, and the ability to communicate that effectively.

What I see LEAP as is a way to give us certain tools and guideposts we can use to further the goal of constantly improving the Library system for both customers and staff alike. We all have the desire.

We are all empowered to make the changes to do so. Congratulations, guys, for making it through. Drinks are on Damone.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Relationship Mind

Howard Gardner, writing in Five Minds for the Future, talks about the potential of adolescents as future leaders being ripe for nurturing, only needing the guidance of teachers, parents, community leaders, or older peers to steer them in the right direction. Gardner then asserts that these minds can be shaped in five directions manifested through five minds:
  • the disciplined mind (a mind trained on a specific scholarly discipline, craft or profession)
  • the synthesizing mind (a mind that can create value from information)
  • the creating mind (a mind that can break new ground)
  • the ethical mind (a mind that contemplates meaning in work and life and then acts on it)
  • the respectful mind (a mind that welcomes differences between group and individuals)
Gardner has done a good job of drawing a diagram, of sorts, of the complete leader's mind. Only, I see one mind missing: the relationship mind.

One of the key ingredients of truly great leadership is effective communication. The best communication occurs within trusting, mutually respectful relationships. The leader must be willing to be open with his team. And, equally as important, the leader must be open to feedback from the team. The need for leaders to connect, develop relationships, and sustain those relationships with his team requires a relationship mind. The leader must have a genuine interest in the lives of these people, over and above their contributions to the work, in order for them to care about him and his vision.

Friday, April 20, 2007

CSI Leadership

I just completed my first weekend as a participant in the Leadership Academy, a year-long, intensive leadership development program. Sound familiar? It was an enlightening, thought provoking weekend. I was given the opportunity to complete quite a few assessments prior to beginning the course. I did the Meyers-Briggs, the Leadership Practices Inventory (a 360 degree evaluation tool), the FIRO-B (delves into behaviors and interpersonal relationships), and the CSI, or Change Style Indicator.

That is alot of self-reflective information to absorb all at once. I must say, though, that the CSI was the most interesting for me. I learned that, in relation to change, there is a continuum from Conserver to Originator. Conservers tend to feel most comfortable with the status quo and require a great deal of empirical evidence and persuasion before adjusting the notion that change is necessary. Originators feel change is beneficial and important for the growth and vitality of an organization. Right in the middle of the continuum, you find the pragmatists. These people will make decisions on a case by case basis, based on the evidence, and will easily see both sides of the coin. Pragmatists are often labeled wishy-washy by the conservers and indecisive by the originators.

The biggest aha for me was that it is important to get a sense of where you and your cohorts fall in this continuum. This helps you to understand why they ( and you!) behave as they do in relation to change, and can help you shape your arguments and approaches (and and your attitude.) Rather than merely labeling people, the CSI provides context for understanding each other's styles and preferences. And, this is important--just because you might be a conserver, it does not mean that you cannot accept, adapt to, and embrace change. It just means that you need more evidence that the change is necessary and positive. Conversely, originators, while thriving on change, can behave in very conservative ways if the evidence suggests that change would not be prudent. Great stuff!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Leadership in Plane View

Great post this morning on Three Minds @ Organic. In it, there is one of the most succinct and spot on definition of leadership I've encountered:

"We got honest communication from the person in charge. Leadership is the reduction of uncertainty in organizations, and it comes from clear messages, which lead to focused actions."

We have all heard the stories of JetBlue passengers sitting on the tarmac for as much as 10 hours without explanation. The author of this post had a very different experience. In fact, he ranks the experience, having to wait nearly 100 minutes, as exceptional. Why, you ask?

Apparently, JetBlue has made some important changes in how they communicate with their customers in situations such as this. The pilot communicated the situation clearly--there would be a wait of 100 minute, the cabin would be made as comfortable as possible, the beverage service would begin, and electronic devices could be used. The pilot went so far as to offer his cell in case someone needed to make other arrangements. And, here is the best part, the pilot offered the option of de-boarding and returning at the appropriate time (unheard of in my experience.)

While this might still be a frustrating occurrence, at least the passengers understood the situation. The pilot addressed the uncertainty by providing clear choices to the passengers. Communicating clearly and providing options are necessary ways to involve your customer in the solution. If the customer is involved, the solution will be satisfactory.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Who's In your Reading List?

Sorry about the lag time. I've been busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger (apologies to paper hangers of any number of arms if you find this offensive.) As I've gotten back up to speed on my blog reading (my Bloglines was quite full) it occurred to me that blogs have become essential reading for me. As I am time-crunched most of the time, blogs have, in many respects, replaced much of the professional reading I used to do, although I still find time to read books and articles that are must-haves.

What I love most is that I am able to have a conversation, of sorts, with people in all kinds of environments. Some of these people are such leading figures in their fields that I would never have been able to have the opportunity to get their thoughts and insights without purchasing a book or flying to a conference. So, here are a few of the folks I'm reading (some I've mentioned before, but that just underscores how much value I find in their writings):

Seth Godin: pure genius. His thoughts extend well beyond web marketing. His leadership and creativity are evident in nearly every post.

Meredith Farkas: great blog that is library related, offering a mixture of tech, teaching, and commentary on the blogsphere.

Stan Schroeder: his FranticIndustries blog is the best tech turn-on I've found. So may great web tools are passed along that I am afraid to not read it.

Bob Sutton: I love the plain language and common sense in his thoughts on leadership.

I've talked about Kent Blumberg before. He is really dedicated to engaging his readers in a conversation. Lots of experience and wisdom there.

Joel Spolsky: mostly tech related, but a creative thinker. His thoughts extend to many areas of leadership. For instance, his company's 3 year internship program is one of the best I've heard.

Garr Reynolds: as a trainer and presenter, I find his stuff to be indispensable. His ideas about design and delivery have completely changed how I develop presentations. I'm a better presenter because he blogs.

I read alot more, but these are the ones that stand out. Please take a moment to share who you're reading and why you find them to be so compelling.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Caring is the Difference

There is a great post in the PLA blog that spells out what I think is the most crucial ingredient in running a library--or anything, really. The concept is that we must care. Very simply stated, huh?

Well, it isn't so simple in practice. While I know that we do care about making sure customers' needs are met, and we do care about being accurate and competent in what we do, we do need to do more to find out what those needs are. Many of us approach providing service with a huge set of assumptions. We know what they want and we know how to get it for them. However, customers behaviors are changing, and so are their options.

We are seeing more and more customers who are able to use the computer to find information. It will be a losing proposition trying to convince them that Googling the answer is not always the best approach. How do we bridge this perceptual gap? Customers are wanting to IM and chat questions (really looking for the 24 hour convenience model?). How do we meet this demand in a way that is attractive to them and effective for us? How do we go about developing an online community that engages customers and makes them feel like they want to spend time with us? What do we do to compete with the Amazons and Borders? We are no longer in a field of one.

Libraries have plenty of competition for the most important commodity--time. Customers will choose to spend their valuable time in places that make them feel good. They will want to return to places that get it right. In my opinion, the only way we are going to show that we care, and get it right, is to have a consistent dialog with customers to find out what they want.

What are some things you are doing to learn more about your customers? Are you approaching service in a different way? I'd love to hear about it. Maybe you're doing something that will help us all demonstrate just a little better that we do care.