By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service
In times of uncertainty and change organisations need strong business leadership, more than ever. But, right now, I am concerned that, despite all the talented people in the workplace, today’s leaders and managers are often fairly mediocre. This is not because they lack the potential or aptitude, but because in many cases organisations simply aren’t investing enough in the training and development of their leaders.
I remember joining a large financial institution on their graduate management scheme, and the training was truly challenging and rigorous. In fact, of around twenty of us that started, only a handful made it through to the end. It was the sort of stretching, all-round training that really equipped individuals to manage and lead, to take ownership and be accountable for their actions. That sort of training and development is exactly what is needed in today’s complex and fast-moving world. But the reality is that organisations have been cutting back on their training budgets and programmes are nothing like as extensive as they should be.
My fear is that we now have a generation of leaders and managers who haven’t been ‘toughened up’ and struggle to take the difficult decisions. They are frightened to lead and want to be a ‘friend’ to their teams. With so many generations in the workforce it has never been truer to say that someone can’t be all things to all people. But leaders shouldn’t be thinking about this. Quite simply, they should be focusing on making decisions that positively impact their organisation.
I am not saying they should be monsters of course! Good leadership is about motivating and encouraging people and about enabling everyone to reach their full potential. The best way to do that is to be very clear and transparent, not warm and fuzzy. It helps to step back and think about what makes a great leader.
It doesn’t matter if they are a charismatic leader or a quiet one, everyone has their own style. But common threads are that they themselves are accountable; they take ownership; they set clear boundaries and targets and hold people to account against them fairly; they focus on outcomes; and they understand people and manage them as individuals.
This matters to me in a customer service organisation because these skills are also at the heart of a successful service agenda. Many of the skills of leadership are also the skills required for service, high levels of decision making; emotional intelligence; problem solving; thinking on your feet and responding proactively; an interest in people.
In other words, it’s a common agenda. It matters to everyone in business because we all need a successful environment in order to succeed. If we’re serious about it, organisations need to get back to investing more in management training. This doesn’t have to be just formal classroom-based training of course. Online resources, coaching and mentoring, informal buddying, peer-to-peer feedback, there are a whole range of interventions. But we need to get hold of the issue because otherwise we won’t be properly equipped if the going really gets tough.