North American Customer Service Management Association

Support for Contact Center Professionals

Step 5 Ongoing Leadership Development

Why is ongoing leadership development important to the contact center? To build a brighter future it takes a leadership team that has a zest for personal and professional development.

It takes an attitude that you are never too old or too experienced to learn a new tool, new strategy or even adopt a new attitude. Keeping the leadership team fresh, innovative and enthusiastic is contagious to the front-line team. This energy and excitement is critical to not only growing the organization but also gives the much-needed juice to get through the rough times. The commitment to continuous improvement builds team member loyalty and trust which leads to cooperation, a necessary ingredient to achieving personal and professional goals.

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. How do you use emotional intelligence as a manager?

Here are a few strategies.
- A true leader understands that it’s about the team and not just you. Managers are aware that agent metrics are your metrics. Its not Me-Me but We-We. Change your focus to the team and less on you.

- Use more personal forms of communication. Ineffective leaders hide behind email, instant messages and Chat. Get out of your chair or pick up the phone if your team member is not in the building and have a live in-person conversation. Everything managers accomplish is through relationships. Live conversations build a relationship of trust, respect and confidence. The human connection will always be the most powerful form of communication. Your team wants to connect to you personally not digitally.

- Learn what motivates your team members. Find out what the most fulfilling work experience is that each team member has experienced. This will provide insights on what you need to do to create a fulfilling work environment.

- The person you are talking to is the most important person in that moment. You send the message that “your cell phone call or email is more important than me”. It is the ultimate insult. Treat your team members with respect and you will get respect back.

- Engage your team members with questions and listen to the answers. People want to know you care and they are being heard. Make eye contact and don’t interrupt.

- You must see the work world though your team’s eyes. You must understand the pressures, responsibilities and demands that are placed upon them. Ask “I’d like to know more about that” and the empathy you show will be appreciated.

- You can never give too much recognition. Catch your team doing something semi-good, great, or fantastic. Verbal recognition in the moment makes your team stand up straighter because you noticed them and took the time to acknowledge their achievement. You can always write a handwritten note and leave it on the desk to be opened in the morning. What a great way for a team member to start the day with some recognition! Handwritten is way more powerful than an email. Those cards get proudly pinned up to the cubicle wall. It’s like a medal. Everyone wants and needs recognition and it is virtually free to give.

Effective leaders use personal power over position power to gain acceptance to ideas and move people to action. Personal power is a source of influence and authority a person has over his or her followers. Where does a person get this power? In short, his or her followers determine personal power. Personal power is defined by the power followers give.

On the other hand, position power is the authority and influence bestowed by a position or office on whoever is filling or occupying it. I am the “site manager” and therefore you will listen to me. Relying on the position or title to move people into action. Positional power comes by the very nature of your title. It is understood by all and never needs to be stated. Throwing your title around or operating as if nothing else matters but your position will ultimately backfire.

What does personal power look like? Personal power is reflected in the way you "show up" and treat your employees and customers. It is about building relationships that result in authentic engagement. Leaders using their personal power are driven by deep relationships built on trust, honesty and cooperation. Personal power leaders create a space that is safe, creative and empowered and are driven to reach greatness. Team members feel like they belong, they want to be included and they are involved and engaged.

Great leaders exercise power by the virtue of their passion and who they are. In short, this motivates associates to do their best work, offering leaders some measure of power through the empowerment of their people. A leader who relies on personal power instead of positional power can persuade and galvanize others, sharing good ideas with them. They possess the ability to make things happen by encouraging and inspiring others and acting as a catalyst for change.

Helicopter managers tell employees what to do, how to do it and when it is due, removing any creativity from the assignment. They withhold information for fear of upsetting others, tend to avoid conflict by solving employee’s problems rather than letting people figure it out for themselves, denying employee’s opportunities for learning and growing. Hovering over employees drives them out the door to somewhere they can think for themselves.

As a manager, it is your job to teach your team how to decide on their own, not make it for them. This is coaching for performance. Managers who understand their role as a coach will have greater impact on their team, their results and the organization. Supervisors who operate more like a coach and effectively coach team members boost results as much as 20% compared to those supervisors who choose to “manage” or tell instead of coach.

- Coaches “ask” versus “tell”. Coaches have learned the art of asking questions; leading questions that help the agent think through the issue and many times will arrive at their own solution. When agents go through the thought process to get to the resolution they feel empowered, confident and they own it. Telling makes managers sound bossy, confrontational and unapproachable.

- Managers who coach focus on the agent versus the task. Coaches use the issue as the vehicle to develop the agent. For example, an agent would continually get stuck and stop working because an obstacle presented itself. The supervisor repeatedly asked questions like “What options do you have to get around this?”, “What options are realistic?” and “Do your options need resources or a manager’s support?” By working with this agent and developing their thinking process they soon began to resolve issues on their own and stopped going to their supervisor.

- Coaching is about developing people not “fixing” them. The coach facilitates the learning and development process by creating a safe place for the agent to explore and discover.

- Coaches, like managers hold agents accountable by providing structure around the action and outcomes. This helps keep the agent on track and they can see the process they have moved through and will implement on their own next time.

- Coaching in the moment is something that happens when needed. An agent comes to the supervisor with a question and the caller is on the line. On-the-job experiences are a good time to reinforce classroom training by helping the agent apply the classroom knowledge to a real situation. This is how learning “sinks in” for long term retention.

Too many managers think they can do it better themselves and thus become overwhelmed and overworked with all the projects, tasks and responsibilities. Overworked leads to more stress, unhappiness and the pressure that you are letting people down. This is a scenario for disaster.

A smart manager asks himself “is this the best use of my time” and learns how to leverage the skills and abilities of the team to get things done. Chances are that your skills, knowledge and experience is better applied somewhere else. By doing tasks yourself you fail to make the best use of your time and therefore are overworked.

You want to match the requirements of the task, project, or job to the abilities of the person. Be sure the person you delegate the task to can do the job. You can trust they can get it done. Delegating the task to the right person is 95% of delegating. The other 5% is letting go and trusting your team member. When people feel trusted you gain respect and cooperation. When you delegate the task, you are also developing the skills and abilities in your team members, which is want good managers do. When a similar project comes around again you can be confident it will be completed well with much less input from you. You are raising the skills and abilities of your team through these delegated tasks.

When to Delegate?
Not every task on your plate is delegable. You want to create a win-win when you delegate so how do you know when to delegate and when not to?
- Is this a task that someone else can do? Is there a critical reason I should do it myself?
- Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop your team member?
- Will this task recur sometime in the future or a one-time thing?
- Do you have the time to provide the adequate training, time for questions/answers and time for rework if the task goes sideways for any reason?
- Is it appropriate to delegate this task? (Interviewing a key supervisor for example most likely needs your time and attention).

Continue to practice your delegation skills. You will find that you can work less hours, be more productive without feeling overwhelmed and at the same time raise the skill level of your team. Sit back and watch your team flourish


Morning Meet and Greet. Walk around the first 30 minutes of the day and meet and greet your team. Ask questions and get them talking about things going on in their lives. Just connect as humans do.
Create a manager’s toolbox. Load it up with note cards, color markers, mints, and chocolates; anything your team likes to receive as recognition and leave it in your office. Having a fully supplied toolbox means you will never miss a recognition moment!

Take the Next Step!

All organizations need a leadership team with fresh ideas, enthusiasm for the future and an appetite for a challenge. Ongoing leadership development is critical to the future of the organization. One is never too old or too experienced to learn new skills, new ways of doing things, new tools or even a new outlook. The commitment to personal and professional improvement builds the team with infectious energy and enthusiasm.

Every leader can improve in emotional intelligence. This is a powerful skill and the only way to master emotional intelligence is to practice it in every relationship and situation. First recognize it’s about your team and not you. Talk to people live and reduce the email and other digital communications. In-person conversations show who you really are and build trust and respect along the way leading to greater cooperation. You recognize even the smallest “wins”. Small wins turn into bigger wins. You demonstrate how you value your team and your team knows you genuinely do care about them.

These genuine relationships allow great leaders to use their personal power to motivate and inspire their teams to greatness. Leaders provide the space for team members to grow, learn and develop by delegating tasks that team members have the capacity to complete. Finally, you ask coaching questions to grow and develop your people instead of just telling them what you want done. On going leadership development grows the team, the manager and the company for long-term success.

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The North American Customer Service Management Association (NACSMA) assists Service Center professionals with improving the delivery of Customer Care to their clients by providing a collaborative networking approach to operational issues.