Customers or Friends – Who Would You Choose?

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By Guest Blogger EJ Widun

I am curious what you would do in a situation like this. The concepts of “right and wrong” are often blurred by circumstances and our personal biases.

Here is the situation…

You are the bartender at a local bar that draws not only a nice crowd but out of town visitors who come for the fare. On this one night while you are working, the bar is about 50% filled; there are several groups of seats available. All of the customers at the bar are busy enjoying their food and the ambiance. Your friends come into the bar and want to sit down at one particular spot but there is not enough room. You prefer them to sit in this spot because it is in a corner of the bar where you can talk to them when it is not busy.

What would you do in this situation? Would you ask the customers already seated and eating to move seats or would you ask your friends to sit in one of the open sections with enough seats for them?

When this happened to us recently, the bartender asked two groups of customers in the middle of their meals to move over so her friends could have the corner. As the customers, Kristin and I felt like we were not as important as the bartender’s friends. It impacted our mood and opinion of the establishment. It also impacted the other customers who were asked to move. The first couple immediately left the establishment and their food.

Should you cannibalize existing customers for your friends? Do you move people in the middle of a meal because “regulars” show up? As “regulars”, you look forward to the familiar faces and camaraderie an establishment can give you. You also feel a certain degree of comfort in having “your seats”. I can see both sides of the argument but as a customer; I can only see my immediate impact. If I were the business owner, I see a bad customer experience, lost revenue and the potential of reputational damage.

Every decision you make may have unintended consequences because of our personal biases. It is important to see things from as many angles as possible when taking action.

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Share and Share Alike

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Anyone who has read my blog knows that I am an ardent supporter of leadership belonging to everyone in an organization, not just a handful of people with a title. If we believe that everyone has the potential to be a leader, how do we filter this concept down to every person within your organization?

The concept of shared leadership may sound like an odd idea. If you are a leader, it is your responsibility to lead, correct? What happens when we make the choice to share our leadership with others? I am not talking about passing the buck, shoving your dirty work onto your team members. What I am referring to is the idea that you should be taking the time to share your thoughts about leadership as well as allowing your team members to assist in the leadership process. Wouldn’t it be great if you created an opportunity for everyone to learn from one another? I felt that we all had something to contribute to the organization regardless of position. Just because I had the title of leader, it no way meant that I was the smartest person in the organization. Sharing my leadership increased my knowledge base from the many things I learned from my team along this journey. The organization also benefitted from the way in which the team was able to take up the reins of leadership. They felt more confident in the decisions that they made and were able to serve our customers in exemplary ways.

Are you a leadership miser, keeping it all to yourself, or do you believe leadership should be spread around?

Respect or Fear

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Have we ever stopped to think about how our team members respond to our leadership? Do we lead by respect or fear? I remember certain leaders whom I would go to extremes to provide them with what they requested immediately as I did not want to be on the receiving end of a tirade. Or, I would get a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw their number pop up on my cell phone, wondering what was wrong now. When I reflect back on those experiences, I find it a very sad state of leadership. I felt as if I was unable to have a productive relationship with these leaders due to their style of leadership by intimidation. You did what you had to in order to stay off their radar screen. Unfortunately, most of us have encountered leaders such as these, leaders whom we feared instead of respected.

Thankfully, I have encountered just as many great leaders that I had immense admiration for due to the way they led with respect for their team. These leaders led with high regard to their team members, not a high regard for themselves. These types of leaders were easy to be around, they expected the best out of us, but did not scare us into producing excellent work. They believed in an open and collaborative environment. Having such respect for these leaders made it easy for everyone to work hard and do what was best for the organization.

I believe that leadership by intimidation occurs when a leader’s ego gets in the way. When an over-inflated self worth overshadows the purpose of leadership, this leader believes they can get the job done any way they want, even if it means belittling team members. The sad part to this line of thinking is this type of leader believes their team has great respect for them. In reality, these teams perform out of fear.

Don’t confuse leadership intimidation with leaders who are tough when they need to be. Leaders may need to exhibit a tough facade when there are issues at hand. However, it is possible to be tough without compromising the respect you have for your team members. True, your team may not enjoy having a difficult conversation with you, but having these conversations in a respectful manner shows that you care and want the best out of them.

Respect is earned, not coerced through intimidation. How do you lead?

 

Trust

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Trust – a simple word that emits strong emotions in many different ways. Why does the word “trust” forge such powerful feelings? We place our trust in many people day after day, from the school bus driver who takes our children to school to the doctor treating our illnesses. We talk about those we implicitly trust, and lash out at those we do not. Put together the word “trust” and politician and see what reaction you will get!

At the core of every interpersonal relationship is trust. It is the foundation from which we build our families, our friends, and our organizations. A strong sense of trust is needed to keep everyone moving forward toward a common goal regardless if it is a personal or professional relationship.

What happens when your trust in someone is damaged? If it is a casual acquaintance, it is pretty easy to avoid that person, in essence cutting off the relationship. Losing trust in a family member or close friend can be very difficult, but many people are more apt to try and repair the relationship since it may involve someone that you care deeply about and want as part of your life.

Losing trust in your leader creates a whole different set of challenges. Since you are gainfully employed, it is difficult to avoid contact with your leader on a day-to-day basis. And most people do not consider their leaders someone whom they are in love with or have deep feelings for (and if they do, that is a whole different issue!)

When leadership is not trusted, a team member may start to believe the common goal of the organization might just be a leader’s personal agenda, even if it is not. If a team member feels they cannot trust their leader, they feel as if they are out there on their own with no one to back them up.

Is it possible to regain trust of your leader once that trust has been violated?

 

 

A Disaster or an Opportunity

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I have always been fascinated by the way an organization describes a mistake. Some come right out and say, “Yes, we messed up and we accept responsibility for what happened.” Others play the blame game and try to pass off their mistakes on others. Regardless of where the blame is placed, the one thing that strikes me as interesting is how an organization puts the opportunity spin on it.

The opportunity spin is something that challenges us to think about issues in a different light. Mistakes are made and how we react to them can determine how we appear to the rest of the world. What do you think about an organization that states an issue is a great opportunity to learn and make changes? Sounds much better than telling the public that they screwed up and don’t have a clue what should be done next.

In addition to changing the way the public views your organization, turning a disaster into an opportunity will also put a different spin on a situation for your team. When everyone is running around wringing his or her hands in despair because they messed up, this creates chaos and doesn’t do much to address an issue. Something as simple as a word choice of “opportunity” can take a little of the fear out of a situation and drive everyone toward a positive result.

Do you see a disaster as an opportunity for future success or just a disaster?

 

The Tank is Empty

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You are driving down the road and don’t give much thought to how much gas you have in your car until that little light comes on telling you it is time to fill up. Unfortunately, humans do not have that little light that comes on when you are starting to feel depleted and empty. What happens when a leader runs out of fuel on their journey? And more importantly, how do they continue to lead when they feel they have nothing left in their tank?

Leadership can be difficult when you are consumed with caring for your organization as well as everyone within it. When times are good, it is easy to remain upbeat and energized to lead your organization forward. If you have the knowledge that everything is going well and all of your team members are happy and satisfied in their positions, leadership can be a more enjoyable experience. While we may have periods of this organizational utopia, it is difficult to maintain this type of environment on a consistent basis. People are not always going to be ecstatic to come to work every day, the ebb and flow of business demands can create challenges to how you operate your organization. These everyday tests can erode your spirit and make leading your organization drudgery instead of your passion.

When you find yourself dealing with the challenges that can wear down the most seasoned leader, from where do you draw your energy and spirit to keep leading?

Getting Real with Corporate Standards

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At one point in our professional lives, we have heard the term “corporate standards.” Whether it is a standard of appearance, conduct or product, we have all had to adhere to a corporate standard in order to succeed in our position.

I understand the need for a set of standards within an organization. Focus on the delivery of a culture as well as a consistent product is the main purpose of enacting an organization’s corporate standards. Everyone has a different perspective of the world, and what might be appropriate for one person may be completely inappropriate to another.

Consistent delivery of service was always something that was stressed throughout my career in the hospitality industry. The goal was to provide each guest with the same level of service in the same manner each time. Early in my career, I worked as a reservationist for a national hotel chain. Our standard operating procedure in service delivery was extremely strict, right down to the words we used when answering the phone. We spent two intense weeks of training in order to perfect our prowess on the reservation system as well as the exact script we were to use when speaking with a guest. This is a scenario when a corporate standard was imperative. When a guest wanted to make a reservation, there was a very specific dialogue that needed to take place; we needed to obtain information from the guest, and they typically had many questions for us. In addition to obtaining the correct information, we also needed to complete the call as quickly as possible. Without these standards, we would not have been able to effectively assist the guests.

How do you think a customer feels about a standard operating procedure? Most likely they don’t actively think about it until something goes wrong with their experience. This thought occurred to me while checking in to a hotel recently. The front desk associate was very pleasant during the check in process, going through an explanation of the services and amenities of the hotel. As a consumer, I have always taken note of the “information dump” that service personnel must bestow on the customer. I always get a laugh out of organizations who give their employees a list of specific information they must provide to the guest, and do not train them how to convey this information in a natural way. Without this training, you end up listening to a recitation that puts you in mind of the most boring class you have ever been forced to sit through. In this situation, the front desk associate handled this beautifully. She went through the process of checking us in, but did so in a very friendly conversational way. I learned what I needed about the hotel without feeling as if I was being lectured.

How much latitude do we give our team members when it comes to a corporate standard?  Obviously when a standard applies to the safety and security of your customers, you cannot budge on this. Do we allow a standard operating procedure to take the humanity out of our teams? How do we still deliver the same high level of service while allowing our team members to use their best judgment to serve their customers instead of sounding like a pre-programmed robot?