Friday, October 22, 2010

Nature or Nurture - what makes a leader?

On LinkedIn the question “what makes a great leader?” was asked … and lots of good and quite some bad answers was provided.
But what indeed makes a good leader? And if you are a good leader in one team/company does it mean that you are a good leader in another team/company ? Is it you or your surroundings … get us back to the age old “nurture or nature”.  My view is that of course it is you who are a great leader but you need to be suited to the culture in the team/company. Of course you can try to swing the culture in the team or even in an entire company – but the bigger the harder it will be. I would compare it to turning and stopping a huge ocean liner – it can be done, but you need to know what to do and it takes a looong time.
As a leader you must stay true to yourself and your values – it is OK to tone some things down and others up – but you lose credibility if you try to pretend liking an idea you hate… be honest about it without dishing the idea.
You need to be consistent and fair in the way you treat your team otherwise nobody will trust you. And if you do not have the teams trust – you have nothing that will even resemble a team.
You need to dig in and do some work as well and your team needs to have different types (some of us do not like the nitty-gritty – but take on some other tasks and make sure you have somebody who likes to do just that – otherwise it will be forgotten and the outcome will probably be less)
Most important you need to maybe not lead the way – but be able to show the team which way they should aim for – in such a way that the team is eager to move ahead.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Positive attitude.

Is it my job as a leader to ensure that my team is happy? No, it is my job to ensure we provide them with the tools they need, a nice work environment and of course – not least a fair salary. But beside that I cannot guarantee the happiness of my team.
Goes without saying that I like it much better when they are happy, but it cannot be my duty to make them happy. What I see and hear people complaining about their job is the salary (granted we would all like to earn more money), but if you are rewarded fairly then extra dosh in the  bank is not going to make you happier or more motivated – except maybe for a short period of time. Or the work hours – but in most businesses there are some standard work hours where we need to be available.
What most of us forget is that unless you life is really in the sh@t you can choose to be happy, you have a choice, Is your glass half empty or half full? That goes for work as well. If you arrive to the office everyday dreading the day ahead of you, you are in the wrong job. If you dread it because you hate the work you do it is time to move on. If the tools are inadequate and your salary not fair for the job you do – it is time to move on (as a company you need to care about your employees enough to ensure this is OK – if not you are not worth working for).
A lot can be done by each individual employee. I am sure we all know those people who “spread gold dust” in the office the smiling happy ones! Yet so many of us seem to focus on the negative. If I tell you my flight was delayed, I am sure you have a story where not only was your flight delayed – you luggage was delayed even longer! I will come back with the time my luggage was lost and I never saw it again.  If I tell you about a colleague who did me wrong – you probably have a story of how he/she did you wrong – just worse! What we would probably not talk about is all the times that person has done right by us (or all the flights that was on time and we got our luggage).
In  the past I have heard a lot of complaint about the atmosphere in the office – what always gets me is that collectively we make up the atmosphere we work in so if so many of us are unhappy – we have it in our power to turn it around.
 In our team we started a project “Positive thinking”. We took a lot of inspiration from “Happy hour is 9 -5” by Alexander Kjerulf on We made some small adjustments and rules.
·         Make sure you build relationships with your colleagues who you do not see very often, call them instead of emailing all the time (so many things can be misunderstood via email). If you have the chance drink a cup of coffee or a beer with them (again it is much easier to be positive towards somebody you have had an informal talk with).
·         When you hear somebody complain about a colleague, customer ect. Listen and acknowledge (we all need to vent once in a while) but also remind them of all the good things this colleague, customer ect . has done. So give them a break.
·         If you feel like writing an angry email, write it – keep it for 24 hours read it again and see if there is still the need to send it.
·         Lead by example!!!   

And although I cannot see a big difference in our employee satisfaction surveys everybody agrees that the office is a much nicer place to be working in and also to visit. I see people much happier to help out and many more smiles as I walk through (but maybe they are just laughing at me).

Friday, October 1, 2010

Setting Expectations

I live in Belgium. A country with many positives - very international, great food, fabulous chocolate, so small that you can get elsewhere in a matter of very few hours (Paris 1 hour, 2 hours to London or Amsterdam). But also home of absolutely the worst customer service I have ever experienced.

More than once have I stood in line at the till, and whilst "serving" me and the people in front and behind me the sales person is on her mobile phone..... Or there is a queue of 5-7 people who wants to pay - only one person at the till whilst another 5 staff are hoovering or chatting on the floor.
Just recently my son got his first mobile phone, he had a certain budget and after having researched a couple of weeks he had his eye set on a specific phone sold by Belgacom - the local telecompany. We visited 8 stores where the phone was on display - but when we wanted to buy it we were told "Ooh we do not have this anymore". Asking if it was possible to order it for we were told "No" no alternative was offered only "try another Belgacom shop". Of course I got slightly annoyed and asked why "do you have the phone on display with a price and everything when you cannot sell it ? Instead of taking it down?" the answer here was "Complain to Belgacom" - which incidentally I thought I was doing. (But obviously there is not much of feeling part of the company if you work on the shop floor).
Visiting store number 9 the clerk says (as the rest of them) "Sorry we do not have that model in store" but wait for it..."If you do not mind waiting a week to ten days I can order it home for you". We almost kissed the guy! He did not only order it home for us - but also called me two hours later to say that he had found the phone in their stockroom - so whenever it suited us we could come and pick it up.
My son was thrilled and he got his phone and on the way home in the car he talked about what a great service this clerk had just given. I whole hearted agreed.

But wait ....hang on a minute.
Everywhere else this kind of service would have been offered in every one of the eight stores we visited (except we would then only have had to visit one), and that would have been the norm. So here we were thrilled about an "outstanding" service which would have been the bare minimum in most other places.

I guess it proves if you set expectations very low - it will be very easy to exceed the expectations and the customer would be happy and come back for more, right? Wrong.
In the case of Belgium I guess we have to get used to it and we are... we wait longer in the cafe to order a cup of coffee, we expect to have a lot of hassle if we want to exchange - or God forbid, our money back for a sweater. But we also go everywhere else to do the shopping when we have the chance (I personally prefer the UK- so go there frequently with a couple of friends for a Saturday shopping - and make a day out of it).

So this will only work if your customers do not have an alternative....

You need to set the expectations at a perfect level. So the customer wants to buy from you, because you meet his needs. But also so it is relatively easy for you to honor these expectations - you cannot "run after", "go all out"  for every single customer - most should be routine and "bread and butter".
Then you have the possibility to “pull all stops” for that particular case which is very tricky and I bet you and your team would love to do that. Because this is really what we live for – these exceptional cases where we call in favors from  everybody… but to do that for every single customer that would just be too exhausting.