2014 is behind us in a manner of speaking and we are in the first month of 2015. Listen to the news and you are likely to find plenty of challenges: stuff that we, individually and collectively, have to deal with. If you/i are to show up as human-centred leaders then what is the way to go about being-dealing with these challenges. This question is the subject of this conversation.
What Is The Access To And The Source Of Mastery In The Exercise Of Human Centred Leadership?
What is the material that a carpenter works with? Wood. What is the material a painter works with? Paint. What is the material that a farmer works with? The land that is farmed. What is the material that a leader works with? Human beings.
What makes a carpenter a great carpenter? Mastery? Yes, I say it takes a mastery of wood (in its many forms) and the tools+techniques that are used to work with-on the wood. Love? I ask you, can a carpenter became a great carpenter without a love of working with-on wood? It occurs to me that the answer is NO!
You may be asking yourself, what has this got to do with human-centred leadership? Everything. I say that a human-centred leader has to love working with-on human beings. I say that a human-centred leader has to attain a mastery over his own being (that which shapes how s/he shows up and travels in life) and the human-condition. What am I getting at? I invite you to listen, really listen, to the following words of profound wisdom into the human-condition (bolding is my work):
Optimism gives a hopeful attitude to life, while with pessimism one sees darkness on one’s path. No doubt sometimes pessimism shows conscientiousness and cleverness, and it may also show experience. But conscientiousness alone will never be enough to overcome the difficulties one meets in one’s life, it is trust that solves life problems.…
The psychological effect of optimism is such that it helps to bring success, for it is by the spirit of optimism that God has created the world. Optimism comes from God, and pessimism is born from the heart of man. By what little experience of life he has, man learns, “This will not succeed, that will not do, this will not come right.” For the one who is optimistic it does not matter if it does not come right in the end, he will take his chance. For what is life? Life is an opportunity, and to the optimistic person this opportunity is a promise, while for the pessimistic person this opportunity is lost….
Man’s life depends on the object of his concentration, so if he concentrates upon misery, he must be miserable. A person who has a certain habit of which he does not approve often thinks he is helpless before is as it is his nature. But nothing is man’s nature except what he makes of himself. As the whole of nature is is made by God, so the nature of each individual is made by himself; and as the Almighty has the power to change His nature, so the individual is capable of changing his nature. Among all the creatures of this world, man has the most right to be optimistic, for man represents God on earth, God as Judge, God as Creator ….
A man with optimism will help another who is drowning in the sea of fear and disappointment; while on the contrary, if someone who is ill or downhearted comes to a pessimistic person, the pessimist will pull him down and make him sink to the depths along with himself. On the side of the one is life; on the side of the other is death……. It is no exaggeration to say that the very spirit of God comes to man’s rescue in the form of the optimistic spirit.…..
It does not matter how hard a situation in life may be: however great the difficulties, they can all be surmounted…… the greatest greatest reward there can be in life is the spirit of optimism, while the greatest punishment that can be given to man for his worst sin is pessimism. Verily, the one who is hopeful in life will succeed.
There are two attitudes that divide people into two sections. The one is an ever-complaining attitude and the other an ever-smiling attitude. Life is the same: call it good, call it bad, call it right, call it wrong, it is what it is; it cannot be otherwise…. The person with the right attitude of mind tries to make even wrong right, but the one with the wrong attitude of mind will turn even right into wrong. Besides, magnetism is the the need of every soul; the lack of it makes life burdensome. The tendency of seeing wrong in everything robs one to a great extent of that magnetism which is needed very much in life….. the world is place you cannot enter with a pass of admission, and that pass of admission is magnetism; the one who does not possess it will be refused everywhere.
The attitude of looking at everything with a smile is the sign of the saintly soul. A smile given to a friend or even to an enemy will win him over in the end; for this is the key to the heart of man. As the sunshine from without lights the whole world, so the sunshine from within, it it were raised up, would illuminate the whole life, in spite of all the seeming wrongs and in spite of all limitations…. looking at life with a hopeful attitude of mind, with an optimistic view, it is this that will give one power of turning wrong into right and bringing light into the place where all is darkness. Cheerfulness is life; sulkiness is death. Life attracts, death repulses. The sunshine that comes from the soul, rises through the heart, and manifests itself in man’s smile is indeed the light from the heavens. In that light many flowers grow and many fruits become ripe.”
– Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art Of Being And Becoming
I say the very being of a human-centred leader is is that of possibility (hope), enthusiasm borne of a deep connection with this possibility (of a better world), and optimism no matter what the circumstance. What kind of optimism matters most in a leader? The optimism in mankind and in particular the optimism in the human-beings s/he is involved with, counting on, responsible, and leading.
I leave you with the following thoughts:
– The price of admission to effective human-centred leadership is magnetism – enrolling people in the possibility of a better world awaiting to be ‘birthed-caused-created';
– The source of this magnetism is deep seated love of and faith in one’s fellow human beings; and
– This optimism cannot be faked – the seeds of it must lie in your very being, and if they are there then this optimism can be cultivated until it blossoms to a fully grown tree.
Want to get a better handle on what it is that I am getting at? I invite you to watch this 5 minute clip of Viktor Frankl:
I invite you to consider that if any human being has attained a profound lived grasp-understanding of human nature it is Viktor Frankl. Why? He is a Jew. He lost everyone during WWII. He found himself in the worst concentration camps. He experienced that which few of us will ever experience. He did not merely survive the concentration camp existence. He came out with a profound optimism in mankind. His book Man’s Search For Meaning, written shortly after his liberation from the concentration camp, is one that I invite you read if you wish to show up and travel as a human-centred leader. Thank you for listening, I wish you an optimistic existence!
Please note that a slightly modified version of this conversation was first published here in December 2014.
Today, let’s take a deeper look at customer-centricity. Why? To get a better appreciation of what this term signifies. And importantly what it does not signify. How best to go about this? Allow me to share a personal story or two with you and lets see what is unconcealed.
My Father Is Centred On Me
Up to the age of 5 (or so) nobody was centred upon me. As a result I lived a life that showed up as free – I pretty much got to do what I wanted to do for the whole day; my father was living in a different country for most of the time and my mother was too busy working the farm to keep a close eye on me.
Everything changed shortly after my fifth birthday. I found myself living in the UK, living an indoor life in a city (rather than an outdoor life in the countryside) and under the careful gaze of both my mother and father. This is where life became interesting. Why? Because my father became maz-centred: he centred his attention on me. What did this look like?
My father planned and dictated pretty much every day of my life. So when I got back from school, I was fed by my mother then marched upstairs to my bedroom to study. And not let out until the studying was done. Homework from school was not enough. My father got together with his more educated friends and gave me extra homework. Each night there would be test. If I did not pass the test there were unpleasant consequences. Further, I had to watch the six o’clock news and the nine o’clock news. And I had to translate for my father. I remember that one night I forgot to inform him that the Egyptian army had been decimated by the Israeli army. The next day he found out from his friends and I got punished.
This level of maz-centricity was not enough for my father. Some weekends he would arrange for my cousin who was several years older to come over. And then he would pose questions to us both. If I did not surpass my cousin – who was and is clever – I got punished. To avoid the punishment I studied a lot in the evenings and even at the weekends.
As I excelled in school my fathers maz-centricity broadened to include Islam. Now I come home to school, was fed by my mother, did some homework, then had to go the mosque and study there for 2-3 hours, then return home and complete my homework.
When it came to choosing which subjects I was going to study at school for my O’levels. My father chose the subjects for example overriding my preference for Physics with his choice of biology. Why? My father was totally centred on me. Why? My father was clear that I was his passport to status (standing in the community) and money. Therefore, he was clear and determined that I was to become a doctor – at least a doctor, more likely a surgeon.
What has been unconcealed here? My father centred his resources (time, money) on me in order to serve his needs – for status, for wealth.
I Centre On My Children
I remember coming home very late one evening – around about 11pm. It had been a hard day at work. Opening the door, I found my son (who was around 3 at the time) rushing towards me with big eyes, big smile, and open arms. As I picked him up the following thought occurred: “My son loves me just as I am. All he asks is that I be here and spend time with him. Whereas at work, I am only as good as the last project. And my utilisation rate.” I also realised that I had been prioritising work over my son! I made a choice. I chose to stop climbing the ladder at a Top 5 management consultancy – work less, spend more time with my son.
When Rohan (eldest son) was around 4 years old I made the decision to put him into a private school: a Montessori School. Many people advised me not do so. Their argument, private school is costly. And I could not put Rohan into Montessori School without, later, putting both Rohan and Marco (second eldest son) into Montessori School. And then later a third child; my wife and I had planned to have three to four children.
After some consideration, I chose to walk down this path – of putting Rohan into Montessori School and keeping there at least until the age of eleven. And likewise for the other children – born and unborn. Why did I make this choice? I noticed that Rohan was an unusual child: bright, risk taking, inquisitive, creative yet struggling to read or put a sentence together. Later it turned out that Rohan has the gifts and constraints that go with being Dyslexic. Noticing, what was so, I was convinced that Rohan would suffer in traditional school where the classroom size is 30+. And the work if focussed on reading and writing. Montessori School offers a much broader curriculum and importantly uses all five sense – not just sight and sound.
When I was not working away from home, I spent some time every evening with each of my children. If nothing else I would go and lie in bed with each of them for 10 – 20 minutes. And I would ask them the same questions. How are you feeling? What was good about your day? What was not good about your day? Is there anything else that you want to tell Papa? I would give each of them a hug and tell each of “I love you and I am so proud of you.” That was the truth and continues to be the truth.
It occurs to me that I was also centred on my children. Ask my wife and she will tell you that I continue to be centred on my children even though Rohan is nearly twenty, Marco is eighteen, and Clea is fourteen. The question is, why have I been and continue to be centred on my children?
My answer: to give these children the best start in life. What kind of start is that? One where they are encouraged and taught to think for themselves. One where they are encouraged and taught to stand up for themselves. One where they are encouraged to be leaders not just followers. One where they are encouraged and taught to consider and care for others. One where they are encouraged to take risks, explore, create, challenge rather then merely follow instructions and execute….. My desired outcomes for my children have been and continue to be:
- each child knows and values his gift/s;
- each child has strong self-esteem (sense of inner worth) and strong self-confidence (way of being in the world and handling that which shows up in the world); and
- each child values others as fellow human beings worthy of respect-consideration and naturally gets on well with others without sacrificing his/her core values and aspirations.
My father centred his time-effort-resources on me from the age of five until I broke away at the age of eighteen; I had been planning to break away from about the age of fourteen.
I have centred my time-effort-money on my children since 1998-1999. All three of my children are still living with me. None of them has any intention of moving out any time soon even though the boys are both employed.
What is the difference? My father was centred on me in order to attain his desired outcomes and at no time considered what I wanted for my life. What mattered was my father maximising his ROI in me. I was his vehicle for status, respectability, wealth…. I have been centred on my children too – throughout the wellbeing of my children has been and continues to be my concern and my commitment.
Imagine a hunter has his attention and rifle centred on your head right now. He is about to take that shot. How are you left feeling? Does the fact that this hunter is centred on you mean that he has your wellbeing at the centre of his concern? You are not that stupid, right? No you are not, which is why you would prefer it if this hunter centred his attention and rifle on someone/thing else – just not you or your loved ones.
So why is it that so many folks go stupid when it comes to business and the use of the term customer-centricity? Why is it that folks talk about customer-centricity as good thing implying that it is good for the company and it’s customers. It may be good for the company, it is highly unlikely to be good for the customers. And I get that there are some companies which are exceptions.
- Customer-centricity is merely a set of people and practices that constitute a powerful tool;
What matters is what this tool will be used for the sake of (purpose/motive);
What this tool is used for will be determined by the person/s who are using this tool;
Therefore, take a good-detailed look at the person/dept/organisation which is using that tool. Look at how these folks ‘feed and breed’ and you will have a good insight into what they will be using the tool for.
Whatever you do don’t listen to the words, remember the Greek legends -in particular the Sirens with their seductive music and and voices.
And finally, from my own experience I have never found anyone to be as customer-centric as a salesman who needs to make his quota. Or a direct marketers keen to get the max revenue-profits from their direct marketing efforts.
I am in the process of reading Edward Slingerland’s book: Trying Not To Try. The following passage got my attention:
Now, imagine a person turning around and, all of a sudden, spotting a small child stumbling toward the opening of a deep well. There is no one who, in such a moment, would not experience a feeling of alarm and empathy. Their response would be motivated by this feeling alone – not because they want to save the child and thereby gain some merit with the parents, not because they want to gain a reputation for goodness among their neighbours and friends, and not because they want to avoid having to hear the child’s anguished cries. From this we can see that someone lacking this feeling of empathy cannot be called a proper human being.
Notice, really notice, what it is that Mencius (‘follower’ of Confucius) is getting at here. Imagine the same scenario and two adults present. One spots the little child, without any calculating, is called into action. The other, spots the child and starts doing a ROI calculation: the cost of taking action v the payoff (return) in terms of what can be gotten from the child’s parents, neighbours, friends, the community at large. Which of these two adults will spring into action and save the child? Which of these two adults when s/he acts will do so in the appropriate manner – one that leaves the child cared for / grateful?
If you are with me so far then it occurs to me that you have gotten insight into why it is that so few organisations cultivate genuine-meaningful-enduring loyalty between themselves and their customers and vice versa. Look at it differently, when you are busy calculating ROI of Customer Experience / Customer Engagement / Customer Relationship / Customer Loyalty initiatives so that you can sell the Tops on your Customer initiative what is really going on? And what does this disclose?
To me it discloses that the Tops are either ‘takers’ or ‘matchers’ or a mixture of both. Just examine that for a moment and ask yourself this, why would any sane human being (customer, employee, supplier, partner) feel any loyalty to a ‘taker’? Then consider that when you are dealing with a ‘matcher’ then what is occurring is transaction: matching requires a calculating way of being-in-the-world. The same question: why would any sane person feel any loyalty towards a ‘matcher’?
To sum up, it occurs to me that:
Only a handful or companies cultivate meaningful customer loyalty because only a handful of companies have Tops who are ‘proper human beings': have-express the kind of empathy (that Mencius is pointing at) that resonates with the people who work in the organisation (employees) and the people who are served-impacted by these employees (prospects, customers, suppliers, partners).
Any organisation whose Tops are not ‘proper human beings’ will not cultivate meaningful-loyal relationships (with employees, with suppliers/partner, with customers) no matter how much time-money-effort is spent on strategy, on process changes, on people changes, on the latest technology.
If you are lower down the food chain, struggling with calculating the ROI of your customer experience / engagement / loyalty initiative and getting ‘buy-in’ from the Tops/Middles then I advise you to stop wasting your time – go find another line of work, or work for the Tops/Middles who are empathic towards the whole Customer thing. Why suffer? Why seek to convert those whose very being is not in line with the Customer philosophy?
It is my experience that for the most part and on the whole Amazon UK delivers. It makes it easy for me to find stuff, order it and pay for it. It keeps me informed about when the item/s are going to be delivered. And when they are delivered. Finally, Amazon makes it easy for me to deal with matters that have not worked out as I expected them to.
Against the background that I have painted, I have found myself somewhat disappointed with Amazon as a result of three customer experience failures. I want to share these failures (breakdowns) with you. Why? It is the breakdowns, in the habitual, that provide me with access to getting present to that which I take for granted, to see matters with a fresh eye, and usually these breakdowns provide an opening for breakthroughs.
Customer Experience Failure 1: The Product Does Not Meet My Expectations
I ordered a copy of Crime and Punishment from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK. I deliberately picked a Seller who displayed a copy of the book with a red cover and described it as “Used – Very Good”. What turned up? A tatty copy: the book was worn/shabby and the cover was white not red. What emotion was aroused in me? Disgust. I found myself not wanting to touch the book. I found myself wanting to throw the book in the bin.
What did I do? I logged into my Amazon account, found the appropriate order, and raised an issue (in writing) with the Seller – sharing my disappointment. Within an day or so the Seller reached out to me in a friendly-understanding manner. The Seller apologised. The Seller shared her disappointment with me. And the Seller refunded my money.
What are the lessons here? I can think of several:
1. The product is most definitely a core constituent of the Customer Experience! Put differently, it is foolish to exclude the product and product considerations from the Customer Experience bucket – which some ‘Customer Experience guru’s’ do.
2. You must deliver on the expectations that you set. If you display a red cover then make sure that the book delivered has a red cover. If you describe the product as being used yet in a very good condition then make sure it is. The description of the product is not just some marketing fluff; it is a promise that you are making to the customer and in making that promise you are setting the customer’s expectations!
3. If you mess up then be charming-gracious about dealing with the consequence of it. How? By owning up to the mess up AND most importantly the emotional impact of your mess up on that particular customer. How do you work out what the emotional impact is? By listening to the customer and/or asking the customer. Then making things right. In this case the Seller refunded the total cost of the book.
4. Use every interaction to build trust and goodwill. It matters that the Seller did not ask me to waste my time sending the tatty book back. If the Seller has asked or insisted that I send the book back then that would have left me feeling angry. Why? Not being trusted and having my valuable time wasted. By trusting me, I am left feeling nothing but goodwill towards the Seller. How do I explain this event to myself? Something along the line that even good folks f**k up from time to time.
Customer Experience Failure 2: I Have To Go To The Post Office Depot To Pick Up My Parcel
One day I got home to find a ‘ticket’ for me from the Post Office. It was notice telling me that I needed to go to the Post Office Depot to pick up my item. And that I needed to pay something like £2.00. Why? Because the Sender had not paid postage. So I made my way to the Post Office depot to collect my item. What did this cost me in addition to the £2.00? It cost me something like 45 minutes of my valuable time: drive there, queue-wait, collect-pay, and drive back home. So I logged into my Amazon account and made a complaint to the Seller of this item – a book.
What did this Seller do, how did he respond? I got an explanation, an excuse, for the failure to pay postage. Something like, all are items are franked, this should not have happened, don’t know how this has happened. And I was told that half the cost of the book would be refunded along with the £2.00 postage I had paid. How did this leave me feeling? P****d off! Why? My central gripe – waste of 45 minutes of my life – was not acknowledged and addressed
What are the lessons here?
1. The customer cares about his/her experience not about your policies, processes or practices! So if you mess up then acknowledge the impact your mess up has had on the customer - as experienced by the customer. I was looking for something like “You are busy. By not paying for postage we made you waste 45 minutes of your life including 20 minutes waiting in a queue which you hate to do. Really sorry about that.”
2. When you mess up then ask the customer what you need to do to make things right. By not asking me the Seller did not involve me in resolving my complaint. By making a decision on my behalf I experienced the Seller treating me as an object not as a human being. If the Seller had asked me what he needed to do to make things right, I might have told him that by asking me that question he had already made things right. Instead, I was left thinking-feeling “This is NOT good enough! It is not adequate compensation for wasting my time.”
Customer Experience Failure 3: Amazon UK Lies To Me!
I ordered a book directly from Amazon UK – not from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK. I ordered that book either late on Friday or early on Saturday. I was expecting to get the book in the following week – earliest Monday. To my surprise I got an email from Amazon UK informing that the book would be delivered the next day: Sunday. I found myself DELIGHTED – delighted that Amazon delivers on Sundays, delighted that I could start reading it on the Sunday as I had some spare time that Sunday.
Guess what happened on Sunday? Around about lunchtime I got an email from Amazon UK. The email told me that Amazon UK had delivered the book to my home. That email left me puzzled. If the book had been delivered then why had it not made its way through my letter box? So I opened the door to see if the book had been left outside on my doorstep. No. I went around to one side of the house, to see if the deliver folks had left it in the garden as they sometimes do. No.
How was I left thinking? I was left asking myself questions. How is it that Amazon says the book has been delivered and yet it has not been delivered? Has Amazon made a mistake? Or is it that the delivery folks are playing games with Amazon? Or is it that Amazon’s definition of delivered differs from my understanding of delivered. And if Amazon gets something as basic as this wrong then what else does it get wrong: invoicing, not delivering some of my stuff, charging me a different price to that which was displayed?
How was I left feeling? Delight turned into significant disappointment. There was even some frustration thrown in. When? When I was looking around the house for the book that had been delivered (according to Amazon UK) and which I could not find. I believe that I also experienced mild anger. I suspect that if an Amazon manager had been around I would have ‘given him/her a piece of my mind’.
When did I get the book? On Monday. Was I delighted/happy to get the book on Monday? No. Yet, if I had been told that the book would be delivered on Monday and had been delivered on Monday, I would have been happy. And importantly, my trust-confidence in Amazon would not have been dented.
What are the lessons here in addition to that which I have already shared? The following occur to me:
1. If you are pushing the envelope on the Customer Experience (like Amazon UK is doing) then make sure that you do not push it so far that delight turns into disappointment. It occurs to me that Amazon is pushing the envelope in letting its customers know when a delivery is scheduled. And then letting the same customers know when the delivery has been made.
2. Every piece of information you provide to your customers acts kind of like a promise and sets the customer expectations. So make sure that the information is accurate. Any ‘bullshitting’ in the provision of information is likely to come back and bite you in the form of customer disappointment. It occurs to me that this is a lesson that many in marketing and sales have yet to learn.
3. Your informational processes+practices must be in tune with you operational processes+practices. Any disconnect between the two is likely to impact your customers – usually negatively. I imagine that the delivery partner informed Amazon that delivery had been made. And this triggered Amazon’s email alert to me.
4. If you subcontract part of your value chain (like Amazon does when it comes to delivery) then you will be held responsible, by the customer, by the failures of your value chain partners. Therefore, it behoves you to select the right partners and ensure that if they are telling you something then you can rely on their word. For my part, I am clear that I am disappointed only in Amazon because I hold only Amazon UK accountable for my experience as a customer.