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.