Managing & Motivating

Four Key Principles of Great Leadership: Trust, Credibility, Coaching and Vision

1 Mar, 2009

By: Rick Davis

A resolve all managers should embrace is to become better leaders of their contact center agents. As a general rule, developing talent seems to be one of the most difficult management tasks, probably because the process of leading is complicated by a variety of factors, including economic fluctuations, company performance and competition, not to mention the worst economic crisis in a century. Leaders must help their people deal with these career challenges in a positive way in order to create powerful and lasting results for their organizations.

But what are the characteristics of great leaders? Managers and employees alike pause and ponder this question, searching for the right answer. Most respondents provide stock answers, often focusing on the trite “lead by example” phrase. Leadership can hardly be defined as leading by example because the very nature of leadership is to get a variety of people to specialize at their individual tasks toward a teamwork objective that benefits an entire organization.

Leaders cannot always do the job of their followers, but must instead inspire them to fulfill the obligations of their role. In an ideal setting, the followers will do more than simply fulfill their obligations, but will instead become enthusiastic performers who are the ones who “lead by example” and become leaders within each team.

Before reading on, take a moment and ask yourself: What are the behavioral characteristics of great leaders? It is important that you consider that this exercise asks you to define the characteristics of performance of the leader, not those of the performer. You are being asked to define the actions a great leader must take to inspire his or her followers to action. Therein lays the challenge.

Great leadership is a performance, a series of actions — proactive measures as well as responses to challenges. If powerful leadership is to become a skill that is intentionally executed, then the performance characteristics that exemplify powerful leadership must be at the forefront of a manager’s consciousness.

Harnessing the Power of Leadership

Multiple theories of psychology and business leadership have demonstrated that four characteristics represent the most powerful behavioral strategies of positive leadership performance: trust (attention and care for your subordinates), credibility (demonstration of ability), coaching (praise, feedback and career guidance) and vision (clarity of purpose stated and persistently reiterated).

Follow this formula if you want to improve your leadership performance in 2009:

Characteristic #1: Trust.

The common aphorism many businesspeople rely on is that “Business is not personal; it’s business.” However, business is personal. People are human beings with emotions, problems, personalities, and a deep psychological need to feel wanted and useful. Listen carefully to your employees and develop trust and loyalty or else you may irreparably damage relationships. Failing to build trust and loyalty among your employees also may jeopardize your own reputation with your superiors. Great managers recognize that their leadership is not based on delegated authority from above, but rather rests on a foundation of strength that stems from a base of trusting, loyal employees.

How to establish trust: Pay attention to the personal challenges of your agents and your business associates while adapting your leadership style to the unique personalities and career objectives of various employees. As an example, consider the challenges and constant rejection that an inside phone representative faces on a daily basis. As a manager of that person, you must be vigilant about supporting the individual’s emotional outlook and remind him or her of the success he or she will achieve. Moreover, you will build a trusting and loyal follower when that person sees you can teach him or her the power of perseverance.

Characteristic #2: Credibility.

Credibility results from trust and knowledge. There are generally two types of managers: the person who had formerly performed the same task as the subordinate and general managers with limited experience at the subordinate’s task, multiple responsibilities, and limited time to invest in contact center management leadership. General Managers must keep in mind that their credibility as leaders is not tacitly accepted and at times the manager may have to demonstrate his or her ability to do the job. Great leaders never ask anyone to do anything they are not prepared or able to do.

How to establish credibility: Create credibility by demonstrating your ability to do the job of your staff members. This does not mean to do the job, but merely to provide demonstrations of the skill. Ironically, you can also establish credibility by allowing an employee to fail. Rather than rush to save a bad situation, it is sometimes beneficial to let the situation play out. An individual who is disappointed in his or her own performance is usually more receptive to guidance than one who has not felt any need for instruction. It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Perhaps this is because the good teacher knows when to appear.

Of course there are times when the leader must resolve difficult situations so your team can see how to perform in the heat of battle. Once you prove to your agents that you have the ability to perform in challenging situations, they will instantly elevate you in status and value your credibility as a leader. You don’t have to be a better performer than the individuals you manage. Many professional athletes rely on the counsel of coaches who cannot perform as well as the athletes they advise. You merely need to be credible in order to establish your role as a coach.

Characteristic #3: Coaching.

Coaches monitor and improve performance and, more important, they help guide career growth. Great leaders recognize an important measure of leadership success is the growth of people and the ability to develop talented performers who earn promotions, recognition and long-term career security.

How to coach: Focus on the long-term growth and career security of your team. Develop in them levels of career security far beyond those they possessed when they began working for you. Worry less about the results and more about the skills that your agents need for career growth — and the results will take care of themselves.

Characteristic #4: Vision.

Those who read mainstream works of business and psychology have heard the word “vision” so frequently that it has become cliché. Yet many agents are still confused about their purpose simply because the vision of their manager remains unclear. For example, “sell more” is not a powerful vision.

How to create vision: Rather than focus on the specific behaviors you seek in people, define a vision. Then create priorities and boundaries that empower them to perform. For example, one manager offered three simple rules for his inside contact center staff in support of his vision. The vision was simple: “We sell only our standard products and services and only honor special requests when is makes profitable sense.” The criteria by which special requests could be honored were 1. Is the product available? 2. Can it be produced and delivered safely? 3. Is it a profitable decision for the long-term health of the company?”

For a short period of time, members of his contact center staff were in disbelief that they could make decisions without the manager’s pre-approval. Eventually they accepted that the vision and the decision-making criteria were consistent and supported by the leader. The result of empowerment is a staff of happier agents who have great confidence in their leader and, most important, create more profits for the bottom line.

If you’re looking for examples of great leadership performance that fit all four of these categories, consider our first president, George Washington. Washington was a man who exemplified all four of these characteristics:

1. During the winter at Valley Forge, the care and uncommon concern he demonstrated for the welfare of his men is legendary. At times, he granted his men leave so they could balance their military responsibilities with their need to support families at home.

2. He rode into battle with his men, demonstrating his willingness to do the very things he had asked them to do.

3. He ensured that his people had as much training as possible under stressful circumstances.

4. Working with his top advisers, he created a successful strategy, against overwhelming odds, that enabled the United States to achieve victory in the war for independence.

If these leadership performance factors were good enough for George Washington during the trying Revolutionary period of our country, then they must certainly be good enough for us as managers and leaders today. Make resolution to be a better performance leader and everyone in your organization will benefit.