Are you the Sapling or the Vine?

Today, I was introduced to Bryce Courtenay’s book The Power of One by David Kanigan, at Lead.Learn.Live.  Somehow, I missed that book and it is now on my Christmas shopping list.  In his blog, David shared the following passage from the book:

“Always in life an idea starts small, it is only a sapling idea, but the vines will come and they will try to choke your idea so it cannot grow and it will die and you will never know you had a big idea, an idea so big it could have grown thirty meters through the dark canopy of leaves and touched the face of the sky.’ He looked at me and continued. ‘The vines are people who are afraid of originality, of new thinking. Most people you encounter will be vines; when you are a young plant they are very dangerous.’ His piercing blue eyes looked into mine.’ Always listen to yourself, Peekay. It is better to be wrong than simply to follow convention. If you are wrong, no matter, you have learned something and you grow stronger. If you are right, you have taken another step toward a fulfilling life.”

Each and every day, we have the opportunity to create an environment where ideas can grow and flourish.

Do we encourage the young, the original and the creative to bring their ideas forward, listen to those ideas and allow them to try?  Or do we instead crush their ideas with phrases like “that will never work”, or “we tried that before”, or “wait until you’ve been here awhile, then you’ll understand”.

When an idea doesn’t work, do we look upon that failure with glee and an “I told you so” or do we encourage and help identify what was learned and alternate paths to success?

Being a leader means recognizing the potential we have to help others grow, flourish and reach their full potential or on the other side, the potential we have to choke their vision with our words and our actions.

It also means that, even when we are long past sapling years, we are still reaching for the sky ourselves. What new, unconventional, perhaps risky ideas have we brought forward lately?

Value and share the knowledge, skills and experience you’ve gained … and enjoy the nourishment of the new, creative, original ideas brought by the young.

Don’t let Policy Trump Service

Creating service standards and setting policies and procedures provides your service team a framework to work within.  Service standards, policies and procedures help create consistent customer experiences.   They support your company’s service promise.

But … service standards, policies and procedures will never cover every eventuality that your customers throw at you.  They are guidelines that apply to the majority of situations, but when they don’t, service oriented companies are willing to adjust, alter and tweak those standards, policies and procedures to make sure the customer’s experience is positively memorable, whenever possible.

They ask  … what is the purpose behind this standard, policy or procedure?  Is it customer-focused? Why was it created? Does it improve the customer service experience?

Better  yet, ask the people who are responsible for delivering the service standards, policies or procedures. They are a wealth of information.  They can help decide if a policy need to be tweaked, if a major overhaul is required or if it is even necessary at all.

When creating or reviewing your standards, policies and procedures, take some time to consider when exceptions may be required and plan for them so that your service team knows that excellent customer service trumps policy.


Can a Right be Wrong?

“Just because you have the right to do something, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”

How many times have you driven into the parking lot of a business and seen a “Reserved for President” sign in a prime parking spot and the “Reserved for Employees” sign at the very back of the parking lot?   Why do some leaders take those spots by the front door, when the people they rely on to take care of customers and the day to day running of their business, have to walk from the back of the lot?

How often do leaders take two hour lunches and then reprimand their employees when they come back late from their one hour lunch break?  Yes, sometimes business is conducted over lunch, but when there’s not a legitimate  reason for an extended lunch break, why do some leaders work by a different set of guidelines?

If company policy states that employees are not allowed to consume alcohol during their lunch breaks,  is it okay for leaders of that same company  to enjoy a glass or two of wine during a business lunch?

Why do some leaders feel they have the right to take home a bonus cheque after asking their employees to accept a pay freeze, a pay cut or reduced benefits?

“Perks of leadership” is a phrase we have all become familiar with.  While leaders may be within their rights to claim those perks, is it the right thing to do?   Enlightened leaders walk the talk, they recognize their title does not make them special or above the “rules” and they chose not to exercise their rights when it’s clearly the wrong thing to do.

Don’t Forget the Experts on the Front Line

“Take the attitude of a student; never too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new.”  – Og Mandino

The quickest way to fall behind is to assume there is nothing left to learn. The quickest way to lose your way is to stop asking questions.

As leaders move up the ladder and become further removed from day-to-day interactions with customers and the daily tasks taken care of by those in the front lines, it becomes increasingly important for leaders to schedule regular visits with the people they count on to keep their customers happy.

Customer expectations have changed and technology has changed since leaders were making their climb up the ladder.   Front line team members are on the front line right now.

The people who interact with customers every single day are a veritable fount of information.  What do your customers really think about the new product you are offering? Are they as thrilled with the changes to your loyalty program as the research and focus groups suggested they would be?  Are customers regularly indicating a need, wish or desire that you just might be able to add to what you currently provide?

By all means, conduct research, hold focus groups, send out surveys and rely on past experience but don’t forget to include insight from your front line team.  When you ask your team questions, you may be surprised at how much they can teach you.

What to do when the Feedback Hurts

Leadership involves asking for, and willingly listening to, feedback.

Asking for comments, suggestions and insight from team members on what’s working and what’s not is important for two reasons:

1.  It provides leaders new information and perspective.

2.   It creates an inclusive atmosphere where people feel valued.

Of course, that only works if the ask is followed by a willingness to listen, respond and act on the feedback provided.

Perhaps the most difficult part of accepting feedback is keeping an open mind when the feedback is unexpected, negative or delivered poorly.  The following steps help process that feedback.

1. Don’t get defensive or allow personal biases to interfere with the message.

2. Take some time to evaluate.  Asking for feedback doesn’t automatically mean it must be accepted.  It is a resource for consideration and  evaluation.

3. Respond.  When there is no response to feedback, apathy and resentment flourish.  People start wondering why leaders bothered asking, why they bothered responding and the next time they are asked, they won’t respond.

And finally, asking for feedback because a book or blog said that’s what leaders do is not a reason to ask.  Real leaders don’t ask unless they want a truthful answer, even if the truth hurts.