To be a successful CX leader, don't be a Borisby
Many organisations still cling to an outmoded view of what leadership should look like. But customer experience professionals can lead by example.
Here on MyCustomer, we are committed to sharing best practices and advice to help customer experience professionals develop the core skills required of CX leaders. Our CX leadership tookit, for instance, collates just a fraction of these articles and frameworks.
We also dedicate a great deal of time to interviewing customer experience leaders, to learn about what makes them tick, and how they are successfully delivering customer-centric change in their organisations. Our MYC'D UP podcast series, for example, provides insight into some of the most successful CX leaders around the world.
We are hoping that in some small way we can help to develop not only the current crop of customer experience professionals, but also the next generation of CX leaders.
But there's a problem. Because while we have a very clear picture of what we believe constitutes great customer experience leadership, not every organisation has the same perception.
MyCustomer's sister site TrainingZone recently published a superb article about how much of the world still clings onto a rather outdated view of what great leadership looks like. Authored by Nicki Davey, director of Saltbox Training & Events (no relation to me, I assure you!), the following article is an extended extract of her insight into leadership requirements, capped by some final thoughts of my own. I hope it will resonate with many of you.
Leadership lessons from Boris Johnson's reign
Before reading any further, please just take a minute to go to Google Images and enter “Leader” in the search box. Take a few minutes to scroll down through the images. What do you notice? What impressions of leadership do the images give? You’re probably thinking along the following lines:
- Mostly white men.
- Very corporate.
- Lots of pointing, arrows, goals, direction.
- Leader is separate or different from the rest of the group.
- Leader is at the front or the top.
What does this tell us? In our culture, leadership is portrayed as being very white, male, heroic, self-reliant, out in front, assertive, or dominant. And it’s not just Google images – in history, literature, art, and the media, the dominant image of leadership is masculine, white, middle class, heterosexual, and physically able.
People’s perceptions of what a leader should be like are shaped by these portrayals. Those who want to be leaders or are already in leadership positions adopt these ‘masculine’ behaviours because they think this is how they are supposed to be, and ‘followers’ seek out leaders who display these qualities.
We see this played out everywhere – in community groups; charities; the public sector; businesses; and, most notably, in government.
Why did so many people consider Boris Johnson to be a good leader? Why did they overlook his ruthless ambition and self-serving egotism? Because they saw someone who fit their perception of a good leader – white, male, decisive, bold, and someone who was ‘getting things done’.
Even after he had lied over and over again, created a workplace culture of abuse and sexual harassment, made self-serving decisions to benefit himself and his cronies rather than people and planet, and disregarded the interests of his party and the nation in favour of his own popularity – there are still people who consider him a good leader for his ‘heroic’ efforts in relation to Brexit, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and/or COVID vaccinations.
Research shows that if leaders show self-confidence, people tend to misinterpret this as competence, and when they speak, the strength of their verbal delivery influences people's judgement of them as a leader more than the content of what they say or their performance record.
New times call for new leaders
However, what the world needs now is a deep and radical change in leadership perceptions and behaviours, so that we value and embrace more ‘feminine’ leadership traits such as humility, compassion, collaboration, understanding, and emotional intelligence (this useful short video on the power of quiet leadership gives a good explanation of this).
Most people tend to connect the term 'masculine' with men and feminine with women, however people of all genders and none can display both masculine and feminine behaviours. Therefore, to move away from assumptions about gender it is more helpful to talk about Yin and Yang qualities and traits rather than masculine and feminine.
In order to tackle the challenges of the 21st century – including the climate emergency, loss of biodiversity, gender and racial injustice, and increasing extreme inequality to name a few – we need a fundamental shift in how we relate to ourselves, each other and the living Earth, together with an associated paradigm shift in how we perceive leaders.
If we are to create a world where there is compassion, justice, sustainability and regeneration for people and planet rather than consumption and profit, then communities, organisations, businesses and governments need to seek and develop leaders across the gender spectrum who create balance and harmony between their Yin and Yang.
With the Yin-Yang approach, neither one nor the other is more important, and neither can exist in its best form without the other. We can listen to everyone’s views and understand their experiences and perspectives better (Yin) when we set a clear intention and purpose for these conversations (Yang).
Furthermore, we’re able to show more compassion to others (Yin) when we set clear boundaries to protect our own wellbeing (Yang). We can also create a more compelling vision for the future (Yang) when it is informed through reflecting and learning from the past (Yin).
Most organisations still have a long way to go to embrace a heart-led leadership style which is built on co-operation, sharing and empowerment, and which prioritises wellbeing of people and planet above commercial gain.
Terrific insights from Nicki, I hope you agree. My takeaway from it is this - while organisations may be slow to embrace this newer style of leadership, that doesn't mean that customer experience professionals can't lead by example. Many of the CX leaders I speak with often emphasise so many of the traits that Nicki mentions - empathy, communication, compassion, collaboration and cooperation, in particular. And even if these aren't your strong points, it's never too late to learn.
I've listed below a few articles from the MyCustomer archives that further delve into some of the qualities that Nicki has lauded. I hope you'll find them helpful - and will in some small way help us all ensure that customer experience professionals are at the vanguard of a new leadership style.
- How to lead with empathy, by Alex Allwood
- The importance of compassion in CX leadership, by Paul Laughlin
- How CX leaders can become better communicators, by Neil Davey
- How to run successful customer experience team meetings, by Jeannie Walters
- How to provide clarity and empowerment to your CX team, by Paul Laughlin
- How CX managers can build better relationships within the business, by Neil Davey
- How CX leaders can fight workplace friction, by Nate Brown
- Collaboration tips for customer experience leaders, by Paul Laughlin
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.