How authentic leaders help mentor others

VXI Global Services Celebrates National Mentoring Month

“If you follow your why, then others will follow you.” – Simon Sinek, author/TED Talk speaker 

In an article that I recently published, I asked the question, are authentic leaders born or made? Now, I’d like to delve deeper into one responsibility that an authentic leader embraces: mentoring the next generation of leaders.

In my many years in executive positions, I’ve always been involved in mentoring young talent in the corporate world, especially the next generation of female leaders. As January is National Mentoring Month in the U.S., this is a timely topic. January is typically when many of us jump-start resolutions for the year. I can’t think of a better goal than helping guide another person toward becoming their best professional (and personal) self.

The “why” in trust

Incredibly successful business leaders, from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to media executive Oprah Winfrey, publicly credit their success to mentors early in their own careers – and underscore the power of this approach to engaging, elevating and empowering others to steer their own futures.

Trust is fundamental to productive mentoring. As Gina Ma, senior director of driver journey for Lyft asserted in a CNBC interview:

"The real benefit of a mentor-mentee relationship is getting to know someone personally and having that element of trust, so that you can help someone become their truest and best self."

Authenticity is at the heart of building that trusted relationship with mentees. Many people have two different sides that they show the world: A “work” self and a “home/true me” self. In contrast, authentic leaders have the confidence and conviction to marry their purpose, values and mission with the organizations that they represent.

This gets back to Simon Sinek’s advice that never wavering from your “why” is key to meaningful leadership.

At VXI, mentorships start with the “why” principle. We believe that a leader’s stories (the “why”) inspire and feed authentic passion – inspiring team members and moving teams and organizations toward amazing milestones. A leader must know other people’s stories to be able to truly understand how one’s own “why” can motivate and encourage team members, direct reports and colleagues to create their own success stories.

What’s your success story?

I frequently like to take a look back at the path that brought me to where I am right now – the work that I’ve done, the milestones that I’ve achieved, and the people who influenced me along the way. As an authentic leader and mentor, you can help others to benefit from the experiences and growth that your professional journey has afforded you.

For more actionable ideas on developing the next generation of leaders, visit MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. I hope to hear from others who have had the experience of helping others create their own success stories – or how others have influenced your own success story!

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Are Authentic Leaders Born or Made?

“Authentic leadership is at the root of cultures of great innovation, engagement, outstanding client experiences, and growth” Henna Inam; CEO of Transformational Leadership, Inc.

Imagine a world where everyone was driven and supported to fulfill their full potential – where leaders were focused on empowering their teams, encouraging them to be their best selves. A world where community governorship and decision making were based on positively impacting the constituents of that community and where corporate leadership was driven based equally on the companies’ employees and customers needs.

From my perspective, this is the foundation of authentic leadership.

Admittedly, I have not always held these beliefs. When I first started out in my career, I was quite immature from a leadership perspective. I thought that leadership was about me. Over time, as I have grown and matured, I’ve come to realize that leadership has zero to do with me - and 100% to do with the people around me. Leadership is not about how I feel; it is about how the people whom I mentor, guide and lead feel after they have interacted with me! Leadership is not about me speaking to others - it is about me listening and creating a safe environment where my peers and direct reports feel comfortable speaking to me - where they view me as a trusted adviser.

What is authentic leadership?

Authentic leadership is a recently coined but widely accepted term in today’s work environment. It is a more inclusive, collaborative approach to leadership. By definition, “Authentic leadership is an approach to leadership that emphasizes building the leader's legitimacy through honest relationships with followers [who] value their input and are built on an ethical foundation. Generally, authentic leaders are positive people with truthful self-concepts who promote openness.” (Wikipedia et al.)

Leading organizations are built around empowered teams, driven by purpose, and led by exceptional and diverse individuals. Effective companies not only create a positive work environment but, more often than not, have truly inspiring leaders. These leaders must not only lead with purpose – they must embody the company’s mission and values. They must inspire employees, investors, and consumers at every level, creating a positive image of their organization and a meaningful culture that’s in turn driven by their most important asset: their people.

The path to authentic leadership

So how does an individual truly succeed as a leader? How have leadership styles changed over time, and how does that impact individuals who want to take on a leadership role within their organization?

At VXI, authentic leadership is a core value that is developed and nurtured. We have several programs in place to cultivate the skill of authentic leadership. These start with identifying the traits of an authentic leader and identifying individuals who possess those traits. These traits include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Integrity
  • Ability to focus on long-term goals
  • Ability to lead with your heart (not exclusively with your head)

These base skills are, for the most part, part of a person’s baseline character - but they need to be nurtured in order to grow.

Once individuals with leadership potential are identified, we have a curriculum to help employees nurture and grow their innate skills. VXI programs such as Mentoring with Integrity, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Training (adapted from Stephen Covey’s framework) and our Gold Star and Silver Star leadership training are just a few ways we work to develop our prospective leaders and to assure that they have a career path through the organization. These programs help VXI to both and attract top leadership talent.

So, are leaders born or made? We feel it is a little bit of both. What do you think?

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Getting past the challenge of driving REAL diversity

As I referenced in my earlier post, Why diversity isn’t just another box to tick – let’s talk ROI, research shows that diversity in the workforce has a clear and positive relationship to an organization’s ability to innovate and drive revenue.

Yet research has also found that most diversity programs are failing to make headway – with some even increasing bias among individual employees.

“Despite a few new bells and whistles, courtesy of big data, companies are basically doubling down on the same approaches they’ve used since the 1960s—which often make things worse, not better.” - HBR, 2016.

One problem is that, particularly in hiring, every individual has inherent biases or underlying factors or assumptions that skew their viewpoints. So diversity programs often focus on the consequences of not changing behaviors - rather than engaging employees in conversations about the challenges and opportunities diversity affords.

What you can do now, as an individual

In my role at the IAOP Women Empowerment, Leadership and Diversity Chapter, during a seminar on gender empowerment with leadership development expert Jolynn Shoemaker,  I gathered some excellent tips on what individuals can do to work towards gender equality in the workplace. Here are a few quick takeaways that I think can be applied toward the challenge of fostering diverse workplaces as a whole:

  1. Start talking about it. This can start with ANYONE. Whether it’s a brown-bag lunch or a formal event, encourage the discussion - not just among those most affected but across the organization.
  2. Look at the data. Talk with the decision makers in your organization. How are you collecting data on what’s happening with diversity within your organization? How can this be improved, and used to increase diversity going forward?
  3. Use the power of mentorships. We tend to gravitate towards mentoring those most like us. Be active in seeking out mentorship opportunities for those underrepresented in the organization. You don’t need to be part of the C-suite to mentor; it can stem from any experience level from the assistant mentoring the intern, right up to the managing director mentoring the mid-level manager.

While support (including funding) for diversity programs must come from the executive ranks, there are so many ways to work toward increased diversity. Which leads me to a question I believe we should all be asking ourselves: How can you work to increase the diversity in your organization?

Please share your stories of what has and hasn't worked!


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Why diversity isn’t just another box to tick – let’s talk ROI

Diversity is a hot topic in boardrooms today. No wonder: One recent HBR study that examined 1,700 organizations across eight countries found that in every country studied, increased diversity equaled increased innovation - and the more dimensions of diversity represented, the stronger the relationship. 

Companies with above-average diversity experience see 19% points higher innovation revenues and 9% points higher earnings before interest (EBIT) margins. These benefits are recognized in the procurement function, where supplier diversity programs have had a growing footprint for some time.

I’m quite passionate about diversity. I sit on the board of advisers for the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) Women Empowerment, Leadership and Diversity Chapter, among many other endeavors for promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

So I find it frustrating that despite all the upside in having a diverse workforce, less than 40% of organizations foster enabling conditions. These conditions include fair employment practices such as equal pay, participative leadership, top management’s support of diversity and open communication practices.

It’s not just a case of inequality – it’s a lost revenue opportunity.

So, how can we do better?

Here are some great suggestions from another HBR article on how to create a successful workplace diversity program, along with my observations:

Focus on intervention, not just bias reduction: Tooling up employees to actively intervene in bias situations builds confidence and awareness and increases collective accountability.

Invite non-managers to foster communication across the organization: Organizations’ diversity efforts often focus on recruitment and promotions - though realistically, these are just symptoms of wider issues in organizational culture. To understand and target the root of the problem, organizations must include employees at all levels in the hierarchy.

Keep the conversation going to stay accountable: Many organizations today are treating the push for diversity simply as ‘a box to tick’, and once the action is completed it can be put aside. Yet to be truly effective, this needs to be an ongoing conversation with results measured over time.

Be flexible - in both content and delivery: Every organization is unique, with different needs and challenges. While you should start with a plan, be sure to talk to employees to hear their challenges, interests, and biases, and incorporate this feedback into the program as you go. Feedback is key.

What do you think, and what have you observed? I’d be interested in hearing your feedback.

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To bot or not to bot – the promise and pitfalls

Chatbots are a consistently hot topic in customer (CX) – and rightly so. According to Gartner, by 2020, daily interactions with chatbots will be normal, and 30% of internet browsing will be done through a bot, rather than a screen.  

Our clients are exploring ways to improve both the guest experience and operational efficiencies in a variety of ways – from notifying a traveler when an upgraded room is available to setting push notifications on package delivery milestones.

As companies move to embrace this technology they often find that there are many options to consider – all of which are constantly subject to change. Here’s a “bite-sized” primer on what our clients have experienced in this space.

Not all bots are the same 

It’s true that not all AI is created equal. Bots differ, markedly, in the amount of coding they need from humans to work well “going off script” if need be, answering customer queries without handing off to a human. To brush up on the basic three types, this article is a good place to start. 

Beware of the promise of bots 

It all sounds great at the beginning – lower costs for you, more efficient service for your customers. But like any new technology or channel, the promise is great – but the risks are also very real. Remember who you are working to create value for at the end of the day – the customer. If not done well, chatbots are “just another channel,” and we all know what happens when you add another channel without retiring others. Costs go up, not down. 

We’re at the beginning of the beginning 

This space is going to evolve enormously in the next few years. It’s good to dip your toes in, but I’d recommend being flexible and keeping your options open. At the same time, it pays to watch what is happening on the edges of the market for inspiration and direction.  

At the end of the day, chatbots should be adding value to your customers – and this doesn’t necessarily mean just in handling your standard frequently asked questions (FAQ) responses. I'm here to help you sort through the best channel mix to help you engage most effectively – and profitably - with your customers. 

Beyond the call center – the value your partners should deliver

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Beyond the call center – the value your partners should deliver

AHT, NPS, CSAT - the metrics that drive customer experience operations  are well-known. 

But it’s the thinking and the intent that goes beyond the purely operational considerations that, in our experience, delivers transformational value for our client-partners. 

Here are three key things that we think you should be demanding of your next customer experience (CX) partner. 

Create value - not cost 

It goes without saying that delivering a great customer experience, at the right price point, is table stakes.  

But price only tells half the story – the conversation you need to be having is about value.  

Think about this for a minute – customers who have a superior experience spend on average 140% more than those who don’t. Conversely, you might recall United Airlines’ brand crisis, when the airline instantly lost $1.4 billion in the market after a passenger’s experience went viral on social media. 

Every customer experience is different – the context, the emotional state, the problem that needs solving. Taking a visionary approach, and always asking “what if” drives you beyond merely an efficiency-focused cost center to a customer loyalty engine and value generator.  

Focus on actionable insights - not just data 

Today’s customer experience operations generate huge amounts of data – and a good operation is able to capture and report on it in real time. But too often, that’s where it ends. 

A truly great operation is one that turns data into actionable insight – data that has been interpreted to provide a clear course of action, and then placed into the hands of those best able to take that action – in the shortest possible timeframe.  

Reduce the risk of change 

While it’s necessary to delight today’s customer, the only way to ensure that you will have customers to delight tomorrow is a constant desire to learn, test and innovate. 

Easy to say, but much harder to execute, true innovation is a combination of design, agility, and in-market experimentation – all while ensuring that customers continue to receive the experience and service they require. 

Finding a way do this at speed is often daunting for organizations – especially when that change touches customers. A partner who not only understands this but is able to remove risk is of the utmost importance in ensuring you can innovate at speed.

To bot or not to bot – the promise and pitfalls

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Contact Heidi