Inspired Service, Part Two: Leadership With Heart

Make the frontline staff your customers, and dissolve hierarchal barriers to excellence.

By Patricia Kirk, MS
May 20, 2014

In Part One of this five-part series, we proposed that the quality of customer service—the core of which is to make members feel special—is the most significant factor in a company’s bottom line. We discussed “how” customer service must evolve to reflect a company’s values more powerfully, and “why” it must evolve: so that people are inspired to become members. To deliver inspired service, employees not only need to be trained well; they also need to have an emotional connection with the company’s vision, its mission and especially its managing leaders, including the CEO. This article’s intention is to get you to think about that connection and to reflect on how well you lead and inspire your own employees.

A Paradigm Shift

Inspired leadership is more than the evolved management skill of each manager; it’s an organizational paradigm shift. As managers begin to realize the importance of inspired leadership, a more inclusive corporate paradigm evolves. The emphasis shifts away from the hierarchical model, where the individual at the top dictates downward, to a model that has a team at the top and teams at each layer. In this new model, communication and relationship skills are key. Employees give their input, and the communication stream goes both down and up. Emotional integrity skills play a more central role. In geometric terms, this hierarchy would look more like a spiral than a pyramid.

To fuel this paradigm shift, leaders must be willing to evolve. This requires them to approach leadership less from ego and more from the heart. It means leading with both heart and mind, integrating compassionate intelligence and wise willpower. This is the only way an emotional connection will be genuine; it’s also the best way to lead powerfully.

In his Harvard Business Review article titled “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve,” Jim Collins suggests that this high-quality leadership requires both humility and professional will. He concedes that these two traits may seem ironic, because they are “paradoxical.” I agree that both are required, yet I believe that they are not a paradox. Rather, when they’re employed by an emotionally balanced leader, they actually complement and drive each other. We become stronger in our humility, because through it we tap into our inner wisdom; we open up to the wisdom of others and we become more aware and understanding. This awakens our convictions regarding what is genuinely good, just and loving, and it drives our professional will to manifest the visions and values we prize.

Feeling Valued

For employees to believe in and be aligned with the company’s “why”—so that they are emotionally invested and can provide inspired customer service—they need to feel that the vision includes them, that they are well treated and respected by leadership. They need to feel valued and to know the value they’re getting out of being an employee. Ultimately, they need to feel not only that they are fortunate to work for a good company, but also that they are as important as the CEO to the company’s overall success. After all, the CEO is not the one on the frontline, interacting with the customer and being held accountable for creating a great customer experience.

Feeling valued awakens the individual’s intrinsic motivation to take more responsibility for the bottom line. Evaluate your managerial style, and ask yourself if you practice what you preach. Do you personally and collectively exemplify the vision? Do you honestly believe that every frontline employee is as important as the CEO to the facility’s success? If you don’t, then you’re setting yourself up for a ripple effect of mediocre service through the ranks. Inspired financial success is lost.

On the other hand, if you believe that everyone is equal, then you need to ask yourself whether you are demonstrating that belief in your behavior and attitude. Do your employees feel appreciated, valued, important and respected? Do they feel inspired? Review your values and customer service standards, and generate these experiences in exactly the same way for your frontline staff as you do for your customers. For instance, treat and speak to your employees the way you treat and speak to your members.

The Vision

To feel inspired, employees need to be clear about the answers to these principles:

  1. Why? Do you hold up your vision as a guiding signal—a “beacon”—every day?
  2. What? What are employees supposed to create in the “field”?
  3. How? How do they create it so they feel competent?
  4. Who? Who are your employees working for, and who are they becoming as a result of being treated as valued members?

Inspire your staff daily, so they are constantly reminded that what they’re doing is meaningful. As their leader, realize that you are responsible for the vision—and thus that you need to make sure everyone is inspired.

How do you do that? Here are some Inspired Leadership Behaviors:

  • Greet all employees with “Good morning [afternoon, evening],” every single time you see them. Say to each one, “Thank you for being here, for what you do to make our company better,” with a smile and a moment of attention. Make employees feel appreciated, valued and important to the overall success of the company. The CEO and general manager need to initially welcome every employee to the company. The first impression sets the tone for the entire relationship.
  • Train, coach, counsel and, especially, respond to employees every day—so that they’re clear about expectations and specific tasks and can feel competent. Relate all training and coaching to the company’s vision, values and standards. This gives purpose and meaning to your employees’ jobs.
  • Lead the charge of change, and be skilled at creating a team. Guide with clear direction, purpose, values, strategies and emotional intelligence, so you inspire your team and manage their fears while holding everyone accountable. This means you need to be self-aware: humble enough to realize that someone else might have the right answer, and willing to listen and try it. Especially, require all team members to treat each other according to the same service values that the company has set for treating its customers.
  • Teach signature behaviors for all company standards, so that if employees aren’t intrinsically sure how to live up to a standard, they can practice the stated behaviors until they are sure. For example, good posture feels good and helps others feel good. It’s all in the vibration. Employees may not understand it, but if they do it they will feel how it improves their relationship with teammates and customers.
  • Make sure employees are well trained and have the proper tools to get the job done. It is disrespectful to ask employees to make sure the corners of the carpet are spotless if they are not given the tools to accomplish this.
  • Be the example of what you are expecting. Be the change you want to see in your staff. Be fun, direct, warm, positive, loving, discerning and honest. Employees need to know they’re safe with you. Apologize when you’re not living up to the standard. For example, if you’re stressed and you overreact, or if you are rude and dismissive, invite the team to remind you of the company’s “why, what, how and who.”
  • When individuals leave the company, always thank them for their service and wish them well.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a closer look at the behaviors that employees need to perform in order to create inspired customer service.

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The Support Center

I once worked for an executive whose focal point was the company’s culture. He went so far as to dissolve the separation between frontline staff and corporate executive teams by asking everyone to refer to the corporate offices as the “support center.” He wanted everyone to grasp that the corporate team’s attention should be on serving the front line. He realized that to create an inspired customer experience, he had to create inspired employee service. And he realized that this had to come from a leadership team that was open, receptive and humble enough to make the front line feel special.

As leaders, we are responsible for making certain that our employees are upholding our brand standard. Yet it is just as important to let them know that we care about them and that they are vital to our success. We need to listen to feedback, make a final decision and then fully explain ourselves so they understand the “why.” We must help


References

Collins, J. 2001. Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Harvard Business Review. http://hbr.org/2001/01/level-5-leadership-the-triumph-of-humility-and-fierce-resolve/ar/1; accessed Apr. 28, 2014.

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Patricia Kirk, MS

Patricia Kirk, MS, is regional manager and director of training and development for commercial clubs for Club One Fitness. She has been in the fitness industry for over 25 years and began her career as a group exercise instructor and personal trainer. She has been in fitness management for the past 15 years. Her passion is developing and implementing employee development training programs, particularly in customer service and management leadership development.

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