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John Stavrakis - Blog

What Parenting taugh me about Leadership

People that know me would probably be surprised to know that growing up I was an introvert. I never sought the limelight, to be looked at as a leader nor did I have a desire to lead. But somehow I became a leader.

I spent a lot of time on self-development and participated in formal training, I sought a mentor and did everything I could to learn about this important role. To lead people was a privilege, and I still believe it is. And I constantly look for ways in expanding my thinking.

But little did I know that my greatest teacher would come into the world at 3.50pm on November 7th, 2013.

The photo attached to this article is that of my daughter, Ava. In this photo, with her being only hours old, I remember thinking, 'I will always show you the way, be a teacher and not judge you and respect your decisions'. What I did not know at the time was that this little person was about to teach me far more about myself and how I lead than I initially realised. Now this does not mean that I did not know these things, but the manner in which I engaged in these areas has most definitely changed.

So what has parenting taught me about leadership?

Both parenting and leadership require vision. As a leader and a parent, it's your job to transmit hope for the future, to hold out a vision of success. Your children and your employees will look to you for support in making that vision becomes a reality. You need to believe that your employees and your children can develop their intelligence and their skills and become productive individuals who will contribute to a greater good. You need to transmit that belief to them. They will rely on you to keep that hope and belief alive even in stressful times. You are their pillar of strength. They pick up on your energy. So you must be able to create and sustain a positive vision for them that contains the possibilities of all that they can become.

Both parenting and leadership require passion, determination and commitment. As a parent and a leader you must be committed to the growth and development of your children and your people. This requires determination on your part - it's not easy to make sacrifices and to stay committed when so many other issues demand attention. Having passion about your family and your work provides the 'juice' that's necessary to keep your determination and commitment batteries charged.

Both parenting and leadership require the ability to motivate and inspire children and employees to accomplish their goals. At home, as well as at work, research indicates that positive reinforcement rather than punishment is the best way to motivate and inspire. As a leader and a parent you need to understand what motivates your employees and your kids so that you can interact and communicate with them in a way that reinforces their belief in themselves and inspires them to do well.

Both parenting and leadership require trust and integrity. Your children and your employees need to trust that you will do what you say you will do. They need to feel confident that you will support them and give them what they need. They need to believe that you are grounded and confident, and that you have good boundaries which they can't take advantage of. They need to trust that they can count on you to act with integrity regardless of the situation. If you act with ambivalence, avoid issues of significance, or dance all over the place, you do not impart integrity and you will slowly nip away at your kids and your employees ability to trust you. They are watching your behaviours to learn from you.

Both parenting and leadership require clear, consistent, two-way communication. As a leader and a parent you need to listen to what your employees and your children are saying, to hear between the lines, to understand their perspective, to act with empathy, to encourage and champion them, to set expectations with great clarity, and to give immediate constructive feedback. Your actions need to match your words, so it's your job to listen to their needs, to be consistent in the messages that you give, and to back those message up with appropriate actions.

Both parenting and leadership require emotional intelligence. Whether you are a parent or a leader, you need to be intelligent about emotions - your own and others. When you act with emotional intelligence you know how to control your own emotions and you know how to handle the emotions of others. This requires a great deal of self-awareness and self-confidence. When I first became a parent, I read Dr Shefali's 'The Conscious Parent'. She writes:

"When your children show you their most vulnerable aspects, and you show up ready to meet who they are, you indicate to them that they are worthy of being respected and received. If you betray them through your own self-absorption with the way you imagine they 'ought' to be, you convey to them that they are unworthy and that the world is an unforgiving place. They then become fearful of stepping out in life. By exercising the courage to own their errors, children learn to respect their fallibility and limitations, while demonstrating faith in their ability to move on."

 And this is also true of our employees.

Both parenting and leadership require a positive attitude, as well as flexibility. As a leader and a parent your kids and your employees will respond better to you if you have a positive attitude, are upbeat and approachable. People respond better in happy environments where they feel safe and respected. You need to demonstrate flexibility and a positive, can-do attitude in adapting to whatever a situation might present. Even during difficult times, they need to know that they can count on you to see the positive and guide them through turmoil. As a parent and a leader you need to create safe environments.

And finally, parenting and leadership requires authenticity. Whether you are a parent or a leader your values impact the people who depend on you. If you are not in touch with your values and living and working according to them, you will send out mixed messages. When we don't operate with authenticity, we don't find happiness and fulfilment. We might end up appearing successful on the surface but we won't be successful in our own hearts. If you're not authentic in your parenting you'll screw your kids up in some way. If you're not authentic in your leadership, you'll screw your team up in some way. You might not understand why and you might blame your kids or your team for what's going wrong, but the real cause is your own inability to operate according to your values and to impart those values to the people who depend on you.

'Parenthood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you'd have. It's about understanding that your child is exactly the person they are supposed to be. And if you’re lucky, they might be the teacher who turns you into the person you’re supposed to be.'

So for these lessons, I thank the best teacher I'll ever have.


Publish Date: February 14, 2016 10:56 PM


Leadership lessons from Greece

Greece is the word.

This is all anyone is talking about in the financial world. Some say it’s a significant impact and others believe that impact of the Greek economy globally is minimal.

What is indisputable is that the impact on the people of Greece IS significant.

As someone with Greek heritage and family in Greece, the true impact is not lost on me. But this article is not about (well, not entirely) the economic or political situation of Greece. It’s about leadership, in particular one key element of leadership, communication or the failure of effective communication.

The general feeling is that most Greek citizens do not know or understand exactly what they are being asked to vote for in this week’s referendum. Some believe that a NO vote will mean an exit from the EU and others are voting YES because they want to stay in the EU. Some want to vote NO to the austerity measures, but want to remain in the EU, but that’s not the question being asked and some don’t even understand the question.

(Coincidently, a NO vote will most likely lead to Mr. Tsipras handing in his resignation. I do agree with the view of a colleague and good friend, that Mr. Tsipras cannot take all the blame. Whilst there are some mixed messages emanating from his government, he is just trying his best to protect the most vulnerable members of Greek society – and that needs to be applauded. The fact that previous leaders before him allowed Greece to borrow beyond their capacity for so many years was only ever going to lead to the social destruction we see today)

In addition to this confusion, some commentators in Greece and Europe are stating that the ‘decision to call a referendum next Sunday on a foreign bailout has thrown open Greece's future as a member of the 19-member euro zone’, while the government themselves are saying that ‘a NO vote does not signify a rupture with Europe, but a return to the Europe of values’…whatever that means.

So what is the question?

Reports out of Greece state the question as follows:

Should the outline of the agreement submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund at the Eurogroup of 25/06/15 and which is made up of two parts that constitute their unified proposal be accepted?

And then it names 2 documents:

  1. Reforms for the Completion of the Current Program and Beyond”
  2. Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis

Now, these documents are full of economic data and jargon that the average person will not understand…personally, I have a headache just thinking about it!

And while the political posturing is taking place, the every day person is suffering. Confusion and fear has seen a run on the banks, and cash at some ATM’s no longer available and withdrawal limits of 60 euro a day have been placed on every single person. Fear has caused many retailers to move to a cash economy and refusal of credit cards.

So how has this turned so horribly wrong?

Well, most reasonable people will acknowledge that the tax system has been flawed for many years and needs an overhaul. Some would even argue, and I will admit that I’m one of them, that Greece should never have been allowed into the euro zone to begin with, as they never met the criteria.

Greece needs to change generations of perceived entitlement, political corruption (which has been endemic in Greece over the last 25 years) and many more issues than I have time to share, and with any change, there will be resistance.

And once again, we come back to communication.

It is the responsibility of ANY leader, be it politics, business, sports etc to ensure that the core message is clear and devoid of any ambiguity. Failure to communicate the important message, to control your story – your elevator pitch – will only result in chaos.

For me, as much as I hate to admit it, where Greece was once a leader of democracy, ingenuity, philosophy and more, they are now an example of poor thought leadership and leadership generally  due to their lack of clear communication and a general sense of direction and purpose.

And in the words of Mark Twain – “Never argue with a fool, as onlookers may not be able to tell the difference”

Publish Date: July 2, 2015 7:56 PM

What are your KPI's telling you?

Key Performance Indicators or KPI’s are as fundamental to a contact centre as gills are to fish….without them, we struggle to survive. But what I find interesting among the many up-and-coming team leaders and contact centre managers is how they utilise the information they now look at daily, and importantly, how they get trapped into managing the numbers, rather than what the numbers are telling them.

So, what are the 10 most common measures people get caught up in?

1. Average Handle Times (AHT);

2. After Call Work (ACW);

3. Hold Time;

4. Occupancy;

5. Grade of Service (GOS);

6. First Call Resolution (FCR);

7. Conversion Rates;

8. Quality Assurance Scores;

9.  Speed of Answer; and

10. Adherence.

So what’s wrong with the above? The simple answer to that question is nothing!  These are all good measures and should be monitored by all managers.  The more difficult question is ‘what do these numbers actually tell you?’

All of the above, in my opinion, are lead indicators to other things. By focusing on these measures as indicators forces the manager to discover the root cause and then coach on that particular issue.  For example, a extremely high AHT may be a lead indicator to poor product knowledge, inefficient system use, low levels of process understanding, external factors and the list goes on.  Our job as responsible managers is to identify the root cause and focus all of our attention on improving that element. Only then will you achieve long term sustainable improvement, rather than a temporary respite from a recurring problem.

My advice for many years to new team leaders or managers has been simple: Never talk about the number, only focus on the things that impact the number.  

The difficulty is not be drawn back into the temptation of the number.  Stay true to the method and the results will come!

Publish Date: September 15, 2012 6:37 AM

Sales v Service v Retention - a unified theory

For as long as I can remember, the discussion (or should I say the battle) around Sales versus Service in a contact centre context has been one of defining boundaries. These boundaries have been about setting a clear distinction between the functions, and those that participate in those functions have very strong, dare I say it, vested opinions about the distinction.  And this argument is not a local one alone, as global discussion appears to be centralized around similar themes.

In more recent times, as business acknowledges the importance of strategic retention functions in the contact centre arena, the division of the contact centre floor has widened even further.
So maybe we all need to take a deep breath, step back and possibly look at simplifying the discussion.
Let's start with a definition of the functions:

SALES:  is the act of selling a product or service in return for money.  It is an act of completion of a commercial activity aligned to a businesses growth aspirations.

CUSTOMER SERVICE OR SERVICE: is the provision of service to customers before, during and after purchase.  Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.

CUSTOMER RETENTION OR RETENTION:  is the activity that a selling organization undertakes in order to reduce customer defections. Successful customer retention starts with the first contact an organisation has with a customer (the sales) and continues throughout the entire lifetime of a relationship. A company’s ability to attract and retain new customers, is not only related to its product or services, but strongly related to the way it services its existing customers (or more importantly the philosophy it undertakes) and the reputation it creates within and across the marketplace.  Customer retention is more than giving the customer what they expect, it’s about exceeding their expectations so that they become loyal advocates for your brand. Creating customer loyalty puts customer value rather than maximizing profits and shareholder value at the center of business strategy (even though that will be an outcome). The key differentiator in a competitive environment is more often than not the delivery of a consistently high standard of customer service.

So, if the above definitions are true and something you agree with, then I would argue that the functions currently at odds with each other are more similar than some like to admit.  I would further argue that as the marketplace environment has changed, with the exception of technological improvements, the contact centre floor has remained stale and largely unchanged.  Even further, I would argue in today's environment, the traditional concept of 'service' is and should be considered redundant and to remain competitive, we need to evolve to a new and improved contact centre structure, one focused on SALES and RETENTION.

If Sales provides commercial activity aligned to growth and Retention is the 'highest standard of customer service and is the activity that a selling organization undertakes in order to reduce customer defection', what place does traditional service functions have in contact centers today?

This does not mean we don't provide service, on the contrary, we focus on providing the 'highest standard of customer service' (which is focusing on a retention strategy) aligned to profitable growth.  We should use technology, where appropriate, to provide service offerings, those considered value add to the customer and unnecessary traffic for the contact centre, but focus all our energy on providing 'profitable' growth to business.
I appreciate that this may be considered extreme, but think of the ideological shift that will translate on the contact centre floor (referring back to the definitions noted earlier) - The next time you ask your new, focused Retention Team, who are now responsible for the 'highest standard of customer service' to cross sell or up sell, will they respond with "I'm a service person, not sales?"

Publish Date: August 29, 2012 6:06 AM

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