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How to Use Great Leadership for a Better Customer Experience

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How to use great leadership for a better customer experience and why it's key for building a customer-focused company culture.

image of Alain Hunkins with a person in the background, looking happy as she looks at her phone, to show that this podcast episode is about how to use great leadership for a better customer experience

A 480 PODCAST

How to Use Great Leadership for a Better Customer Experience

40 minutes | July 6, 2021

00:00:00 00:00

In this episode of the Leadership 480 podcast, leadership expert, facilitator, and coach Alain Hunkins joins us to discuss how to use great leadership for a better customer experience. He describes how the most effective leaders put their people first, and why leading this way is key to building a customer-focused company culture.

Beth Almes:

Hey there, leaders. Welcome back to the Leadership 480 podcast. I'm your host, Beth Almes. Today our topic is about connecting the dots between leadership and customer satisfaction. 

I'm really excited to welcome leadership expert, Alain Hunkins, to the show. Alain is the author of Cracking the Leadership Code and CEO of the Hunkins Leadership Group. He's a popular keynote speaker, facilitator, and coach who connects the science of high performance with the art of leadership. He's also worked with about 40 of the Fortune 100 companies. So he's got some great experience to bring to us today. Alain, welcome to the Leadership 480 podcast. We are so glad to have you.

Alain Hunkins:

Thank you so much, Beth. I am so excited to be here with you today.

Beth Almes:

One of the things that I have found so intriguing about your take on leadership is that connection with leaders who are customer-focused. A lot of times when I hear that, I think about leaders who drive their teams relentlessly to meet every customer demand. But in your work, you've described how a different way of leading actually puts the customer first.

Alain Hunkins:

Yeah. It's really interesting because this sense of relentless focus on customer... You hear, "We're customer-obsessed." I mean, kind of to the point that, what are we going to do? We're going to drive over our people to get to the customer? I mean, the fact is, and this is for all of our us listeners right now, it really doesn't matter what industry you are leading in, first and foremost, we are all in the people business. And the people that are closest to us are the teams that we are leading.

So, yeah, it's great to want to drive for results and be customer-obsessed or customer-focused. However, driving for results shouldn't come at the cost of driving over the people that are trying to deliver those results. So, if we look at, for example, you look at Southwest Airlines, a great example, one of the most profitable airlines in history, and there's no accident that their stock ticker is L-U-V, love, right?

I mean, so this idea of putting their people first because they realize... And again, it might seem intuitive, but it doesn't happen that often, is that if we connect and care about our employees, they are going to be able to turn around and care about our customers. The fact is you can't fill something if you have an empty cup. It's just the nature of humanity, of how these things work. So for us, as leaders, is to realize, what am I doing to connect first and foremost with my employees?

The research... I know DDI has done some of this research as well as other people. The number one thing that makes employees engaged, retained, and productive is: do they feel cared for by their immediate supervisor? 

Now let's face it, cared for is probably not the metric that you're looking at every day. But maybe it should be. So we have to get out of the idea that sales or operations or profit... Those things are actually lagging indicators of the behavior of your people, those sales revenue, profit. They don't come out of nowhere. They come because someone did something. So all of us as leaders have to, first and foremost, be a bit of an amateur psychologist because we're dealing in the people business.

Beth Almes:

I love that metaphor of you can't fill someone else's cup when your own is empty. And I think about that from, if you're working as an individual contributor, and your leader is on your back and really driving you, and then you're getting it from the customer, as well, it's like you have nothing left to give.

Alain Hunkins:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I think many... Again, if you're a frontline leader, for example, here, listening in, you might be feeling, "Yeah, but what about my boss? I'm not getting it filled." So this is the challenge. And one of my favorite metaphors here comes from Stephen Covey, the famous Stephen Covey Seven Habits author, around this idea of the circle of influence and circle of concern.

Yes, you may not be getting all of your needs met from your immediate supervisor and, rather than but, and what are you doing to make sure that the teams you are leading are getting their needs met? That means putting that servant hat on first. How can I help them? Realizing that for us as leaders, we succeed when our teams succeed. That should be first and foremost our priority.

I'll tell you a story about this. I was working with a retail company and one of the things they have... The way it's set up, they've got their executive vice presidents, and then they have their regional managers and their district managers. The retail company has 100 district managers across the United States. Now, the CEO spends time with every single one of those district managers doing an annual review. Now this annual review, they basically walk them through their district. They walk through the P&L, their budgets, kind of their plans, their goals, their challenges. Each one of those meetings takes about three hours.

Now, do the math here. You've got 100 people, three-hour meetings each. That is a serious investment that the CEO is making at that level. Now, one of my mentors used to tell me, he said, "If you want to know what people value, look at their checkbook. I guess we're being a little analog with the analogy, but you get the idea. Look at their checkbook because that's where they spend their money.

But if you want to know what a leader values, look at their calendar because where you spend your time is what you truly value. This CEO valued developing that level of district manager. Now, it turns out that that company has gotten... This is retail. The turnover rates in retail are rather high compared to other industries. They have one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry, and almost all of their executives are homegrown. So it's just this mindset of what are you doing consistently day in and day out to build people up, and not just giving it lip service but actually showing and following through in your actions?

Beth Almes:

I think that the whole concept behind... It has to be all the way down the chain from the CEO, all the way down. This model of empathy and understanding and values is so valuable. We're doing some research right now that will be published soon. 

But one of the things we're seeing is that CEOs often think, when they're looking at their different levels of leadership, they think their senior leadership team is doing really well. And then it drops off a ton when they look at their mid-level leaders and their frontline leaders.

One of the questions we're looking at is: is that because those folks really aren't doing a very good job, or is it because they just can't see them? They're not spending enough time with them. They don't know the answer to that. So I love your point. I love that story about the CEO coming and spending time with each of those district managers despite the huge, huge investment of time.

Alain Hunkins:

Oh, it's very much so. Yeah. In fact, I was just working on an article where I collaborated with the head of diversity and inclusion for Beam Suntory. What was fascinating was she said a wonderful thing around this idea of inclusion is about... If you want to be inclusive and you want to show empathy for people, you need to have proximity, that, ultimately, inclusion and empathy can't be an abstract idea. 

You need to show up. You need to be in someone's face, in a good way that is, in their face and to be able to create these human-to-human connections so that ultimately... Look, our human brains and our neuro systems are wired that, if people are out of sight, we default to the negative.

So we have to find ways that people can basically relax and trust their nervous systems that everything's going to be okay. Especially right now, if you think about where we're coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, all of the uncertainty, so many industries are in change and in flux. It doesn't mean that you have to have all the answers as a leader. But what it means is you need to give people that psychological safety that we're in this together and that, yeah, you may not know what the solution is, but you're willing to work at it with them to find out.

Beth Almes:

I think that's a great lesson, especially in the world of remote work. One of the things we've been thinking about a lot is folks who are new leaders, whether they've just stepped into the role here or even if they've been in that role for a while. But as a frontline manager, a lot of times, your take on leadership is really what others have done for you, how you've seen done before. So when you step into the role, you're very rarely given a manual. It would be nice because there's lots of books, lots of things. I know we've written a ton of them, but there's lots of things they could have.

But a lot of times, you're really not given that many resources when you're stepping into a new role, and you just model what your leader did before or what old bosses did. But you've talked a lot about defining that difference between old-school leadership and kind of the new school of leadership. How do you see that play out in the difference between the two, if you want to kind of break the mold of what you've seen done in the past?

Alain Hunkins:

Sure, yeah. I'll introduce this concept about old school versus new school because it shocked me, a story that happened to me, actually. I've got two kids. Alex is my son, who's 17, and my daughter is Miranda. She's 14. This happened a little over 10 years ago. They were probably about six and three at the time.

So, as little kids often do, they're in the living room. They're kind of goofing off, getting really loud. I'm in the kitchen. And I have to confess, Beth, I got a little bit triggered the way parents do sometimes, got a little triggered. I walk into the living room, and this is what comes out of my mouth. I say, "Would you two stop behaving like children?"

Now, I'm telling you this story for two reasons here, Beth. Number one, that is a ridiculous thing to say to a six and a three-year-old because they are children. But the real reason is, as soon as those words came out of my mouth, I was in shock because, "Would you stop behaving like children?" was the exact same phrase my mother used to use with my brother and I when we were kids. These words came out of my mouth, and I just thought, "Oh, my gosh, I've become my mother." Right?

So, unconsciously, I have patterned the behavior of the previous generation, which goes back to your question: why do we lead the way we do? Well, we unconsciously copy the role models we've had. And of course they copied their role models and their role models. So the question that I had in my research was: how far do you take this train back to until you get to the original station?

The original station turns out to be Frederick Winslow Taylor. For those that don't know, he's considered the father of the field of management. Now, Taylor was, by training, a mechanical engineer. He saw the workplace as this engineering problem to be solved. 

So he's the one who came up with this idea of human resources. Think of us as a bunch of parts like, "Hmm. The machine's not working. Let's take out this human resource and plug in a new one." Again, you've got to remember this is the industrial age. So, really, he was looking at... Ideally, you had labor, and the goal was: how could labor move X number of tons of pig iron metal rods from one place to another? So it was very brawn work.

So, in their mind back then, management or leadership had the brains, was doing the thinking. And, basically, the job of labor or the employee was just to basically do as you're told. And that model of just basically, "Shut up and do as I tell you," has been carried out for generation and generation. It worked to a point, just to a point in the industrial age, when, again, you look at, for example, the Ford Motor Company... came out with the Model T Ford. They didn't change that model on the assembly line for over 20 years.

So things moved slow. Business cycles were slow. The economy was different. Now we live, boom, fast-forward: technology, the information age, the knowledge work age. What we expect and what we need from employees is completely different. 

Henry Ford famously said of his employees, "Why is it every time I want a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?" You think about that today, it's ridiculous because we need people to think for a living because everything that doesn't need a brain has already been outsourced to an algorithm or a computer program or somewhere else. What is left is essentially human work.

We need people at the front lines to be creative problem solvers. So we have to shift how we go about working and how we go about leading. And what I've found in my work is that ultimately the three meta skills that are ultimately human and can never be outsourced that every leader needs to learn and do well are connection, communication, and collaboration because that is going to be the foundation to be able to make great decisions to ultimately lead to great results.

Beth Almes:

Those same three skills sound a lot to me like the same things you would need to connect well with customers, to show them empathy and to collaborate with them in solving their problem. Most customers right now don't want to say... They want you to help them. They want you to provide that for them. That's part of what makes that relationship so powerful between whatever your business is and the people that you serve.

Alain Hunkins:

Absolutely. And realizing, too, I mean, for all of us, and you don't even have to think about anybody else, just think of yourself personally, how our expectations as customers have gone through the roof. I mean, just think about every year. I mean, we all know when I say one click, everyone knows what that means if you've ever shopped on Amazon. So that becomes the benchmark by which everything else gets measured. So, "Wait, I can one-click on this website. Why is it 50 clicks to work with you? That's just inefficient." 

Also, people want a personal relationship, this kind of bespoke, customized, personalized service in an age of high-tech automation. So it's a challenge. It's a challenge to lead a business and to run things now. And, ultimately, like you're saying, yeah, connection, communication, collaboration, it applies with employees, but it very much applies with our customers, as well.

Beth Almes:

And I think that's true not only for those who are in some type of service business, of course, but even if you're selling key chains or whatever it is, the expectation has changed so much that people do want to know who they're buying from, who the people are. 

If you're sitting there making those things, you're not thinking about, "How do I make a better key chain?" You're thinking, "How do I solve this customer's need better than I did before with whatever it is they're worried about?"

Alain Hunkins:

Yeah. I mean, the fact is, I mean, there's so many things that have shifted. If you ask a lot of leaders... They'll say, "What's the number one reason why employees would want to leave their job?" Typically, most leaders will still come up with money. 

That's not the case. LinkedIn had a recent survey that found the number one reason people say they look for a new job is their inability to learn and grow. And now we have more than 50% of the workforce is Gen Y and Gen Z. So the value proposition of what we expected and, if you're of Gen X or older, if that's your mentality, the mindset of what people expect, you may be way behind the times.

So one of the keys to connection and communication and collaboration is asking people. I think a big shift for any leader listening now is: what am I doing to stop thinking I need to have all the answers and stop thinking of myself as this Commander Answer Giver in Chief and flip it and start thinking of myself as the Facilitator in Chief? And facilitators are about making things easy. What am I doing to find out what people need?

As humans, we're good at many things, but reading minds typically is not one of them. So that means you need to go out and ask people: how can I serve you better as your leader? What would make your job interesting? What would make it more engaging? What can we do differently? And having that continual feedback loop, surprise, surprise, those same kind of inquiry skills are completely applicable when you're talking to your customers. 

How do you like our product or service? What would make it better? What could we be doing differently to make this better? What would make you want to recommend us? And really listening and then taking that feedback and responding to it.

The challenge that I think so many people have, whether it's listening to customers or listening to employees, is we've got egos. We have agendas, and it's hard to step back and go, "I don't want to hear this right now. Please... How are we going to deal with that stuff? So the challenge is you have to be able to cultivate a mindset that really starts with being truly... I call it listening with purpose, which is different from listening to check this off your list or show someone that you're a good listener. This isn't about doing little corporate theater like, "Oh, we want your input, but we're really going to do this, anyway." We have to be genuine and honest because people will... People smell it out.

Customers smell it out, and they take their business elsewhere. Employees smell it out, and they pack up and leave. I mean, last study I saw of the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that for workers age 25 to 34, the median tenure is like 2.8 years. 

So people are not sticking around just because they can't find a job, and particularly coming out of coronavirus pandemic. I mean, what I'm seeing all the studies are showing is that the labor market... People are ready to go. So you need to have a really compelling reason for people to stay with you.

Beth Almes:

I think that's a really important point right now. I'm seeing the same. I think they're calling it... It's the Big Quit or the Great Resignation. People are just handing in their resignations left and right because they feel, even if they have nothing else lined up at the moment, if they've been able to save up a little bit, they need the break more than they need anything else. I think you mentioned earlier kind of that engineering mindset or the true original HR mindset of a human resource... It's somebody filling a role and just you can replace them with someone else.

And I think for a lot of business leaders, especially those who are a little more analytically minded, they're thinking, at the end of the day, like, "Yes, it's nice to drive engagement. Yes, it's nice to retain my people. But what I'm responsible for is a certain set of numbers. I'm responsible for a certain profitability or sales or customer service." 

It's hard for them to see the relationship between what they're doing with their team and then how they meet those metrics, how they drive profit or whatever it is they're trying to do. How do you help leaders connect those dots of what you do on your team is going to be what drives your metrics at the end of the day?

Alain Hunkins:

Yeah. I mean, there's a number of things that we do. I work with a lot of people one-on-one as a coach, and this comes up continuously. I mean, one of the phrases I hear all the time is like, "You know what? I really mean to care about my people." 

Wait for it, wait for it. Here it comes. "But, ultimately, at the end of the day, I'm accountable. I've got numbers to get to." So one of the challenges that people don't recognize is, basically, as leaders get into the pressure of delivering, what we tend to do is we lose empathy. And part of losing empathy for our people or our customers is we don't step into their shoes.

Let's take one of the metrics you talked about, Beth. Let's take customer service. Okay. So, in your ideal world, if we could say your employees delivered, we'll call it, five star customer service, just the most amazing customer service, part of what I imagine anyone would say around that is they have to respond with empathy to their customer. That's a pretty obvious thing. The customer's like, "Hey, your shoes didn't fit me."

"Oh, I'm so sorry." There's got to be some acknowledgement, some empathy on that part. Okay. Let's just take that and park that for a moment. Let's say that person who is supposed to be super empathetic about someone calling in with customer complaints, again simple example, they're supposed to be super empathetic. 

However, you're just on their case of like, "Yeah, you're not getting this done. You're not delivering on these results." How do you think they're going to feel? How much space are they going to have to be able to turn around and be empathetic for the customers if you're not doing it for them?

And you can take it around empathy. You can take it around wellbeing. You can take it around stupid reports that people have to fill out, stupid meetings that people have to attend. I mean, there's so many different things. So these things, we have to realize that everything as a leader that we do or don't do says something about us, including what we don't do. 

We have to give people an environment, basically design a culture where people can show up and be at their best. We mentioned it before, too, number one thing: do people feel cared for by their immediate supervisor? Gallup's got the Gallup 12, which talks about: has someone in the last week given me praise on my work? I've talked to employees about this, and they say, "In the last seven days someone praised my work? I'd sell it for seven months. No one talks to me around here."

It's just there's so much research. Again, to me, I'm sort of... At a certain point, if a leader is going, "Yeah, I just... Prove it to me." Like, "I just don't get it. I'm not responsible for this." At a certain point, I just feel like, it's like, is someone coachable? It's the same principle, is that at a certain point, we can lay out all the data around empathy at work, caring about employees. 

If you don't want to go there, at the end of the day, that's something about you. I think the business case is very clear. I think the challenge that many people are having is they are feeling such internal pressure about failure, failing to perform, that they can't see beyond that. And they really can't see the forest for the trees because they're too stuck in that way. But that's what coaching's for. So hopefully I can help with people to see that. 

Beth Almes:

I think that's so important. One of the things we've often talked about and found in our work, as well, is that sometimes there's a self-perception issue with leaders, especially when they're under pressure of you might think you're doing those things, and you don't realize that you're not. 

You're like, "Oh yeah, I show my team empathy all the time." And then your team's like, "No, let alone in the past week, no, you haven't done that in the past year, said thank you or, 'You did a good job on this,' or something like that." People may not be realizing it. So feedback becomes a really important component. How have you seen feedback work into leaders becoming more thoughtful about their teams and consequently their customers and what they're trying to drive?

Alain Hunkins:

Oh, such an important thing. I mean, being able to, I'd say, first receive feedback more than give it for leaders is one of the critical skills. I often get asked, "If there's one thing that you could say to help people accelerate their leadership development," and I'd say create a culture where you are receiving on a regular basis feedback from other people. 

I think one of the challenges that most of us have is our experience in the past around feedback somehow triggers all sorts of old messages around shame, blame, guilt, not good enough. And as soon as those emotional triggers come up, you put up walls and, frankly, you don't hear anything that's being said. And you get defensive. You justify, which is why when people get into, like what you were saying before, Beth, of, "I listen. I'm fine. I'm good." I'm like, "No, it's actually...

So I think around feedback, a couple things that really help is, first of all, feedback can't be seen as a one-off. Once a year, we're going to do this in a formal way. Feedback needs to be a part of your everyday conversations with people because here's my favorite definition of... There's a little story on this one. You know where the word coach comes from? It's not the handbag, by the way. If you think about leaders as coaches, which we are, right?

Beth Almes:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alain Hunkins:

So, if you think about it, back in the day before cars, we had horses and carriages. The person that drove the carriage, do you know what they were called? They were not called the coach. You'd think. No, it was called the driver because they were driving. 

However, there was someone who was called the coachman. It was a man at the time, not a coach-person. We'd change it for today. It was called the coachman. The coachman's job was to sit on top of the carriage, because there were not paved roads. There was no AAA. 

They were up there on the top because they could see ahead of the horses because the driver's right behind the horses. They cannot see the road ahead, but the coachman could see where they are ruts. And then they could give directions to the driver to help the driver get to where they're going.

That is my favorite definition of what we are as coaches. And as leaders, we need to be able to help people to see the road ahead that they can't see yet. Part of this is if we are so defensive and stuck and feeling shame around hearing from other people, that means we're uncoachable. 

As leaders, not only do we need to coach, we need to be coached by our people and others saying, "Hey, I've got some feedback for you," and realizing we need to build psychological safety and have trust so that we know that when people are offering feedback, they are doing it in their and our own best interest, that it isn't some political move.

So we need to learn how to do that. A couple of the techniques I teach are around... I call it +/​EBI. I don't even know where it comes from at this point. I've been using it for so long. Plus is, "Hey, here's, what's working well," and EBI, "Here's what would make it even better if the next time." So it takes a lot of the looking in the past of, You screwed this up. You're bad. You're terrible. You're a lousy person. You never should have been born." We don't want to go there.

But it's amazing because there's so many people. We don't like to talk about it, but I've coached so many leaders. When we start to peel away these layers underneath, we have a lot of vulnerability and a lot of people who might... if you want to call it imposter syndrome or concern that anything negative... Anyway, and it's way more pervasive than we think. 

All of which to say is, yeah, if you can create a culture where people can be honest and give candid feedback about things, I mean, suddenly you have a team of coaches all helping each other to be able to be on that carriage and to get to our destination as quickly as possible with as few bumps along the road. That's really... I mean, it's a good metaphor for what we're trying to accomplish in any of our teams.

Beth Almes:

I love that idea of the coach. I had no idea of that origin for the term. But I think that that's... I love the image of somebody who can just see a little bit further ahead and can help direct you, not necessarily telling you what to do but telling you what's coming, telling you what's going to happen so that you have a chance to adjust. 

One of the things that we're seeing right now so much, too, is these massive changes, these massive shifts in customer demands where, I think, for a lot of folks who were doing something before that they really knew well how to do, for tons of companies and leaders and workers right now, you're being asked to do something different than they were before. 

And that may be permanent not just in reaction to the pandemic, because at this point, we've all learned to do things like work from home, if you can, or things like that, but that there will be major shifts ahead in how we conduct business and maybe, really radically, what you do.

So, as leaders are paying these coaches and trying to look ahead, how do they help their teams through this period of change as what their customers want is changing and what they have to do to transform may be quite radical? How do they keep them on board, especially when their teams might be feeling just burned out by all of this?

Alain Hunkins:

Yeah, such a good question. I'd say the first thing is burnout and the threat of burnout is very real. So the place to start with that is, first of all, I go back to connection. How connected are you to people? And do people feel safe speaking up around what's really going on? And what are you doing to mitigate burnout? I mean, so many people now are working from home. 

For example, what are you doing to set boundaries around work times? That's a really simple one, but let's face it, I mean, if people feel like there's always more work to do, which generally there is, and there's nonstop, I can work 24/7, well, some people are going to gravitate towards that. 

So what are you doing to create healthy boundaries? And a simple example is: how often do we meet, or what is okay for... What times of day can people send emails to each other? Because we need to build buffers and boundaries back in. Otherwise, we're going to lose a sense of sanity.

So it starts from a wellbeing perspective, recognizing that. And then I think the next thing is realizing, yeah, things are completely in flux. I mean, whether it's digital technology, the customer needs, so many things are changing right now. So what we as leaders and as teams need to figure out is: how can we take on the attitude of a learner more consistently? I'm sure you're familiar with Carol Dweck's work and growth mindset.

Beth Almes:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.

Alain Hunkins:

The fact is all of us, whether we like it or not, we've kind of been pushed out of our comfort zone. It's funny. One of my colleagues said, I'm jealous of coronavirus." This was back... This is a couple months in. I was like, "That is the most bizarre statement. What do you mean?" She said, "I work in organizational cultural change, and what coronavirus has done in two months, I could spend 20 years. And suddenly this virus has changed everything." 

If you think about, yeah, necessity is the mother of invention. So, yeah, we have been thrown. Like it or not, we have been thrown into this... It's no longer the future of work, right? It's the now of work that we're dealing with. 

As such, what, as leaders, are we doing to recognize we're all learning together? And one of the things that I've had to do in my business with my team is... There are days where I feel that pit in my stomach, that clenched feeling. Some people call it the oh... feeling, I won't name it. This is the family-friendly podcast, but that oh... feeling.

Beth Almes:

We do a transcription of this, though. So I'm glad you didn't tell us.

Alain Hunkins:

Yeah, there we go. Exactly, exactly. But what I'm learning to do is reframe that feeling in my stomach, that clenching of my gut, and going, "Oh, that's what learning feels like. We're learning this." And if you look at, for example, what, and this comes out of the tech industry, but things around 80% done shipping, constant iteration, agile, it's like I think more of us have to get used to let's keep learning and growing and iterating. 

And it's going to be more of a constant cyclical, iterative process of: how can we keep learning and growing and developing and seeing what works and having these lines of communication open? Because we don't have the answers, and things are going to keep moving so quickly. We're going to have to keep trying stuff, seeing what works, and then shifting and then trying something else and moving that forward, as well.

You know, I think a really good example of, and this goes pre-pandemic just around making this shift, is Microsoft. I write about this great story in the book. As many people know, the CEO of Microsoft is now Satya Nadella who came on board in February of 2014. 

Now, at the time, Microsoft was really focused on software. I mean, that's what they did. And they had come through two CEOs. They had Bill Gates. They had Steve Ballmer. And under the Ballmer era, who had been there 11 years, the company was really flat.

Nadella was brought in. He was homegrown. So he had grown up... He knew the Microsoft culture. But one of the challenges that he saw was that Microsoft was this culture of what he calls know-it-alls. Everyone had to be the smartest person in the room. There was a lot of ego, a lot of posturing, a lot of competition. 

So his first executive board meeting, he brings in everyone. Everyone on the board meeting, he brings a copy of Nonviolent Communication. So, if you don't know the book Nonviolent Communication, it's actually a manifesto of how to resolve conflict and treat people with empathy and respect. As somebody on the board said, "Wow, Ballmer never brought books in to read."

This was definitely new. And one of the Nadella's biggest initiatives coming in is like, "We need to change the culture of Microsoft so we become a culture... We stop being a culture of know-it-alls, and we become a culture of learn-it-alls. If you look at the businesses that they have now entered into since then, over these past seven years, I mean, Microsoft has done so many changes, learning shifts, pivots in going along. And empathy and learning is a huge part of their culture.

They've also brought a culture of coaching in house, where so many people are being trained to think and act and lead like coaching, to be more coach-like. It is one of their most popular programs. And you can say, "Well, it sounds very soft and fuzzy. How are they doing with their numbers? Because that's a risk." 

Well, here's some data for you. On the day that Nadella took over as CEO, the Microsoft capitalization was $301 billion. I checked just this morning, and we're recording this, by the way, on June the 28th, 2021. So you have a little date stamp for our market cap. 

The market cap of Microsoft this morning is $2.02 trillion. So you're looking at pretty close to 7x the market cap in just over 7 years. So something about this idea of growth, right? If we think about, every business is always talking about growth, growth, growth. Wouldn't it make sense for us to adopt a learn-it-all growth mindset? Because, frankly, everything has to start in the mindset before we can start to manifest it in behaviors.

Beth Almes:

I think that's such a powerful lesson, and I do feel like it translates really well back to the customer of when you're looking at learning it or learning from customers and feeling the empathy of what they need. Sometimes when I think of certain companies and their products or things, especially when you talk about software, when I think of their products years ago, it was always, "How can we make the better software, build on it more, build on it more?" And, yes, that's relevant, but you have people using it on the other end of that.

I think for a long time, sometimes Microsoft could feel, for a while there, maybe like it was not always as intuitive as certain other brands or things. Certainly, a lot of that is changing. But, as you shift away from, "I've got the most brilliant solution to the software problem," or whatever it is you do towards, "I've helped the person using this solve their problem better, and I've made that more intuitive, more efficient for them," it just changes everything when you really put the needs of others first and you're learning from them versus thinking of it all yourself.

Alain Hunkins:

Yeah, and as you touch on that, Beth, what it makes me think about is the fact is that shift from, "I have the most amazing product or service," or you can also say, "I am the most amazing leader." Both of those are very egocentric. They put me first, like, "This is about me." And as we know, what makes great leaders great leaders is it's not about you. It's about them. 

It's being able to park that agenda, park your ego, and listen to those people whether it's your customers, whether it's your employees, and truly listen and connect with what is going to help them to solve their problems, solve their issue, right? 

No one ever hires a coach because they want a coach. People hire coaches because of what they think coaching will do for them to help them to reduce the amount of stress, to become more productive, to be more communicative and clear. That's why people hire coaches. So we have to get out of the mindset of, "It's about me." Ultimately, it's not about me. It's about them.

Beth Almes:

I think that's great. I was actually talking with a family member yesterday at a gathering. And one of my family members just took over as CEO of an organization. And he said, "You know, one of the things that a lot of people don't realize, even in very high levels of leadership, is they don't know the difference between being right and being effective and how critical that is. Being effective is so much more important than being right."

One of the things we ask all of our guests on this show is about a moment of leadership that really affected your life because, for so many of us, we come into this because a leader really inspired us to go into leadership, or we had such a negative experience that it was like, "I'm going to change, and I will never let something like that happen again." Can you share a moment of leadership that affected your life and changed your career path?

Alain Hunkins:

Yeah, I will. It's interesting because it's not a professional moment. It's a personal moment. And this is kind of up for me lately. As you know, we had to reschedule the original recording of this podcast because my father passed away just a little over a couple of weeks ago. And one of the things that my father was not particularly good at was communicating the big picture around the family. 

If he was the quote/unquote "patriarch," he was not necessarily good at communicating that. I'm thinking of a specific example. Once I remember talking with him. He had this wonderful uncle, Eddie, who... And I was sitting with him. I must've been in my late 20s at the time. And I said to my dad, I said, "Hey, how's Uncle Eddie doing?" He said, "Oh, Uncle Eddie died two and a half years ago." I said, "He did?" And he said, "Yeah. You didn't know?"

I thought, "You never told me. How would I know these things?" And it was one of these moments because, as my father was transitioning, and he's been sick and ill from Parkinson's disease for quite some time, that moment stuck with me. 

I thought, "Who needs to know this? Who needs to know that this is going on?" I think, just in general, that mindset of, when there's something important going on and it can be... This can be professional, anything in your life. When there's something important going on, thinking and being inclusive, "Who else needs to know this?" Or needs to, "Who would like to be included in knowing this?"

So I reached out to cousins around the world. I reached out to friends. I said, "Just to let you know... This was just before my dad passed. I said, "Paul's in hospice. He's not going to be here much longer. I'm letting you know this with zero expectation that you need to either do or not do anything. I just wanted to include you because I thought you'd like to know. And I love you," so just that mindset.

I think so often when... I just think back to that moment, I had of like, "You didn't tell me." I felt really excluded in that way. And then I didn't feel a part of it. And one of the things that we see with leadership and teams is that people want to feel belonging, that sense. 

If you look at diversity, equity, inclusion, we want this sense of belonging. So something that I've really strived towards, and that moment taught me a lot, was: how can I make sure that I'm including people throughout things and that, in any moment, a general little question I always ask, like, "Who else would like to know this? Or who needs to know what I know?" 

Because it's so easy for us in our busy lives, especially as leaders, just to kind of plow away, and we mean well. We want to get stuff done, but we might be leading people on the side of the road. So that's just a moment that struck with me in the last couple of weeks as I was reflecting on that question.

Beth Almes:

I think it's really one of the great leadership moments we've heard, I think, on this show. And I think it has so many extensions of inclusion for your team. And it does reach to the customer. 

So many people buy from companies or brands that they want to be a part of. They want to be a part of their culture or what they stand for. It translates all the way through. If people want to be part of something, it's a much more fundamental human need than just whatever it is you're selling.

Alain Hunkins:

Oh, yeah. I mean, why do we wear T-shirts with brands on them? I think, "This represents me." It's somehow... Again, it's an extension of my brand as a person. Again, these get into these deeper questions of identity. And if you want to shift people's behavior, you need to really get to that core-rooted identity level for sure.

Beth Almes:

Thank you so much. This was such a great talk. Thank you for joining us on the show, Alain, and thank all of you for spending part of your 480 with us today. This is Beth Almes reminding all of you to make every moment of leadership count.

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