Service & Experience with J. N. Halm: Leading the experience


….Assessing the impact of leadership approach in service experience

Leadership is cause: everything else is effect. This statement, attributed to the venerable Professor Stephen Adei is and will continue to be true. The plethora of concepts, ideas, theories and even schools of thought on the subject of leadership is enough proof of the importance of leadership. The leadership styles and approaches of the greatest leaders ever to walk the earth have been dissected and studied, all in an attempt to find out what made them so successful. The truth is that in any set-up, those who are charged to lead can make or unmake the entity and its objectives. This is why even kingdoms, nations and states rise or fall on the strength of their leadership.

It is therefore not surprising that when it comes to businesses and their attempts to meet their objectives, the role of leadership is key. Beyond achieving its stated objectives and targets, the role of leadership is important in the business’ attempts to constantly give customers the kind of experiences that would endear the brand to its customers,

Anyone who has ever spent some considerable time serving customer would admit that it is an enterprise that demands a lots of motivation. Customer-facing professionals need to be motivated to be able to do what they do and to do it well. It takes a motivated individual to smile in the face of some of the most irritating incidences a person can ever encounter. It takes a motivated individual to hold back and not respond to a customer with the same rude statements the customer metes out. It is motivated individuals who go out of their way to make the customer’s day a little better, by offering a smile, a kind word or just an eye contact. Motivation is needed in loads at the front line of every enterprise and this is where the leader comes in.

Without a doubt, one of the most important jobs of a leader is to ensure that those the leader is charged with leading must be sufficiently motivated to do their jobs and to do them well. It rests on the leader to get subordinates to be ready to go at any point in time. However, it is important to note that there is motivation and there is motivation. There is the motivation that comes from external sources and there is that which is self-generated—that which comes from inner motivational resources.

It has been found that of the two kinds of motivation, the one that the individual generates from within the one’s own self is more powerful. Motivation that is independent of external pressures is a force to reckon with. This is why a leadership approach which nurtures the inner motivational resources of an individual is so pivotal to the fortunes of any enterprise, especially when it comes to serving customers. There is a term for this kind of leadership approach. It is referred to as the Leader Autonomy Support (LAS).

Leaders who adopt this approach are those who are known to be very concerned about the well-being of those they work with. Such leaders are known to encourage employees to initiate a lot of actions on their own. They are the kind of leaders who would not resort to the use of external rewards and awards or threats and punishments to get subordinates to get in line. The carrot and stick approach is not something these group of leaders subscribe to. They prefer to appeal to the individual’s own sense of worth.

LAS leaders will be conscious of where and how they reprimand offending subordinates. They will not budge in on a frontline staff who is in the process of serving a customer and begin to lambast the employee. They know that going that route will affect the confidence of the employee and affect the one’s performance and productivity throughout the rest of the day. These leaders will wait until the customer is gone before they will do any such reprimanding. These are the leaders that are sensitive to the feelings of those they lead.

It is also proven that individuals who work under these types of leaders tend to be less stressed than those with other kinds of leaders. It is common knowledge that working at the front line can be one of the most stressful schedules one can ever be put on. Dealing with different customers, each with his or her own personalities and problems, can be very testing. The well-cultured, well-behaved and most friendly customers can turn into monsters within minutes. Even the weather can have an effect on the mood and thereby the experience of customers.

With all of the pressures that come with working at the front line, the last thing a customer service professional needs is extra pressure and stress from the team leader. In my experience, having a leader who is there for you goes a long way in helping the customer service employee manage the workload better.

In short, leaders who adopts the LAS approach genuinely care about those they lead. By so doing, these leaders are able to get their team members to be more fully engaged on the job, leading to increased productivity of the unit, department or organisation.

A study whose results were published in the November 2019 edition of the Service Industries Journal buttressed the important role LAS leaders play in the performance of frontline employees. Titled “How Autonomy-Supportive Leaders Influence Employee Service Performance: A Multilevel Study”, the study involved 600 service employees of 39 gas stations in Taiwan. According to the results, when leaders display genuine concern for those they lead, these employees experience a fulfilment of a psychological contract between the employee and the organisation.

It is important to note that every employee that comes to work for an organisation comes with certain expectations. Such expectations might include more than just the amount of money the one expects to make at the end of the week, month or year. These expectations might also include how the employee believes he or she should be treated.

Studies have shown that employees put in a lot to the productivity of the organisation when these expectations are met. Therefore as asserted by the researchers behind the Taiwanese study referred to above, leaders who are concerned about the well-being of their team members help in making employees feel fulfilled psychologically. It is little wonder therefore that when employees feel they are valued, they will go to great lengths to help their leader succeed.

Another study published in the May 2018 edition of the Motivation and Emotion journal pointed to the fact that autonomy support as a leadership approach is consistent with optimal functioning of employees in the workplace. The title of the said report was “Leader Autonomy Support in the Workplace: A Meta-Analytic Review”. The researchers came to that conclusion after perusing more than 70 studies on the subject matter.

There was also a study that was conducted by a group of Malaysian researchers within the banking sector of Pakistan. The study was published as part of proceedings of The International Conference on Environmental and Technology of Law, Business and Education held in September 2020. Titled “Leadership Autonomy Support and Employee Performance: Mediating Effect of Intrinsic Motivation”, the study also lent credence to the fact that leadership autonomy support had a positive effect on the behaviour of employees.

Mr. Patrick Odonkor, the first-ever manager I worked under in the banking industry, was one such leader. One of his greatest strengths was his ability to make you feel like you were very important to the success of the branch. He called every single team member “manager” when were just common “officers”. By so doing, he made us feel empowered, which is a very important after-effect of LAS leadership.

I noticed that his approach was so effective that we sort of led our own selves. For instance, because we “liked” him, we did not want to do anything that would upset him. We therefore did whatever was expected of us, even to the point of ensuring that we brought team members who were stepping out of line back in line. That was how far we were prepared to go for a leader who truly cared.

Autonomous leaders tend to empower individuals within their teams by providing them with the authority to make decisions that are relevant to their positions. They then provide these empowered individuals with the right tools and resources they need to help them succeed.

The importance of having such leaders is evidenced by the growing number of programs that are aimed at developing such leaders. Many organisations are training their managers to adopt this style of leadership. These organisations know that if their leaders subscribe to this leadership style, increased productivity is almost always a given.

By extension, if team members in a unit, department or organisation are not performing at their optimal best, one should look at the quality of leadership the team has. The negative work behaviours and associated low productivity could be due to the one leading the team.

So as you can see, if an organisation, a department or unit is to create a great customer experience, the boss really matters, a lot. Because whichever way you look at it, the leader actually leads the experience.

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