Of Course You’re Busy, But It’s Not an Option!

With a clear picture in your mind of someone you know who always says “I’ll get back to you on that” but rarely does, and a firm understanding for the importance of being responsive as a leader, let’s consider one of the biggest challenges I hear from folks with leadership responsibility when pressed to get back with the people who count on them in a timely manner: they’re stinking busy!!!

I don’t think I’ve ever known a single person with any real level of responsibility for leading even the smallest team who wasn’t working to keep plates spinning all around them! The fact of the matter is no one stumbles into leadership, we earn it through the influence we develop in our organizations and with the people we serve. And that isn’t done without being willing to carry a heavy workload. On a number of occasions, I’ve heard John Maxwell joke about a book he has set to be published immediately after he dies called Leadership Sucks. Even though he’s clowning around when he says this, his point has always been that genuine leadership has nothing to do with being fanned and fed grapes. There’s a ton of responsibility that comes with it! And the more folks we have counting on us, the more demand we have on our time. But regardless of all the demands we have on our time as leaders, choosing not to respond when our team reaches out to us is not an option!

Over the last few months, Cindy and I have been fighting some kind of stupid technology issue with our business email server causing many of the messages we send to not be delivered. I’ve been told about a few things that could be causing it but we haven’t been able to get it resolved - yet - but you can bet we will one way or another! Interestingly enough, the software we use to send our leadership email series (A Daily Dose Of Leadership) and our monthly newsletter gets through to a number of folks where our direct emails land in spam folders or are blocked entirely, which makes no sense because it should be the exact opposite. To make this even more frustrating, we almost never receive any kind of notification that the email hasn’t been delivered. Remember how my dad told me that I’d get more patient as I got older? Reframing from blowing a gasket about this takes every ounce of patience I have on a daily basis!

Here’s why I share all that mess: that’s still no excuse for me to not respond! Since Cindy and I have always worked to be extremely responsive with everyone we interact with, folks tend to understand if something we’ve attempted to send hasn’t made it through to them - but we never take that for granted! When we don’t hear back from someone we’ve sent something to, we typically reach out by phone or through social media to let them know we’ve sent the email. In the cases where they hadn’t received it at all, we’re usually able to dig into other options for communicating with them as we work through this crap. And that adds even more time to the process, but being responsive is an absolute priority if we want to maintain relationships and continue earning the trust necessary for leadership! Dropping the ball on any of that even once because I’m busy just isn’t an option!

As we wrap this look at responsiveness up, let’s work through one of the most effective things I’ve ever learned for prioritizing what I need to do as a leader and then we can tie it all together with the impact this can have on every single customer we serve.

Making It a Priority!

As I emphasized before, I’ve never met someone with any real level of leadership responsibility who didn’t have far more things on their to-do list than they had time for in a given day. That seems to be a given if we’re going to wear a leadership hat - or maybe it should be a cape… The secret sauce to earning increased levels of influence in our leadership roles though is making sure we accomplish the most important tasks on our lists, like responding where and when we need to, lies in defining our priorities.

 Two of the lessons in our Emerging Leader Development course reference the most effective thing I’ve ever learned from John Maxwell on ensuring I dedicate my time to the right things, those priorities that have the most impact on achieving the results I need to accomplish each day. In the opening lesson of the course, we introduce the idea of The Three R’s that I first learned in 2001 when I read The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. We briefly touch on the importance of identifying what’s truly required of us, what gives us the best return on the time we invest, and what provides us with the most reward.

Although we only touch on this from a high level in that first lesson, we’re often able to see the wheels start turning with folks when they’re challenged with the idea that they may be required to see that a task is completed but it may not be something that they have to physically do themselves. I’ve seen leaders at all levels of organizations struggle to delegate tasks for a whole herd of reasons, but the folks who are new to leadership roles tend to struggle the most because they’re still battling the thought that “if you need it done right, you’ve gotta do it yourself.” Regardless of our title or role, we cannot get bogged down in that kind of thinking and still make sure we’re taking care of our priorities - like being responsive to those who are counting on us!

When we cover the R’s in more detail in the sixth lesson, we work through all three very thoroughly then we introduce a fourth; Reproduction. I won’t take the time to go into all of that here but I will share that the folks we’ve seen really grab onto the first three R’s have a solid head start on reproducing themselves as leaders; that final lesson just gives them a framework for being intentional about!

Time management for leaders is absolutely critical, especially if we want to be sure our teams and the clients we serve see that we value them through our responsiveness to their needs. Leaders who don’t respond are giving up so much of the influence they’ve likely worked hard to earn - within their teams as well as with the community around them. When we make responsiveness a priority, we will see a real-time example of the importance of leadership in customer service - and the results that come from that - but that’s not limited to just the customers who pay for our goods or services,…

A Leader’s First Customer

I believe making responsiveness a priority is considerably easier when we understand just how much impact it has. Think about it, would you even consider not responding to a customer or client who represents tens of thousands in profit for your company? I’d guess most of us would put our spouse on hold to return that call! I found an article called Customer Service ROI: How To Measure and Improve Value that went into significant detail on how great customer service shows up in the bottom line. The author grabbed my attention earlier on by sharing that “90% of shoppers consider customer service when deciding whether to do business with a company, so your customer service has a strong ROI, whether or not you’re aware. It’s up to you whether that ROI is positive or negative.” Before going into some metrics that were far more than I bargained for, they also emphasized that “great customer service improves customer retention, which is an especially important avenue for growth, especially considering the cost to acquire new customers has increased by 60% in recent years.”

I can’t argue with either point! In fact, I believe both have strong parallels with the recruitment and retention points I hammer on so frequently… I believe the disconnect though is often in who we view as our customers. In all the years I was involved with internal quality audits for a large manufacturing company, we always stressed that the person purchasing the products we made was not the only customer each employee was serving. The first several years I worked there, I operated a stamping press that processed raw steel from a coil into various flat blanks that would go through several more steps before it ever being assembled into anything that could be boxed and sold. My primary customer was the next operator who would touch those blanks, and everyone else downstream. Understanding that made an immediate difference in how I approached my work!

As leaders, understanding who our customers are should make at least that much difference! I found a really good article on Forbes.com that addressed this idea called Leadership Is A Customer Service Job — For Your Team And Beyond, opening with the statement “In an organization, customer service roles are often delegated to the business development, marketing or sales departments. But when you are in a leadership role, you are also in a customer service role.” The author of this same article went on to share that “Good customer service means meeting your customers’ needs. In the same way, leaders need to be able to put themselves in their customers’ shoes.”

Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with a business owner a while back where I challenged him to approach his employees just like this. He had a great reputation with the clients he interacted with directly but he was struggling to retain the staff he had and to recruit new folks to be part of the organization. I asked why he treated one different from the other. I don’t recall the exact response, but it was something to the tune of “customers pay him and he pays employees,” suggesting that the customer deserves great service and the employees should just do what they’re told. I won’t go into any more detail about that specific situation but I will challenge you to consider whether or not you’d be excited to be on that team…

So how can we tie all this together? I believe understanding that the teams we lead (and that should be read as serve) will be far more engaged when we provide them with great customer service! Being responsive as a leader will also have a direct impact on how we retain great people and attract others to our organizations. The “I’ll get back to you on that” response may be acceptable occasionally with a few people but I sure can’t think of a time where it’s OK as a leader - especially if we don’t follow through!