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9 Leadership Lessons Learnt by Delighting Customers

Aug 12, 2019 · 7 min read

I’m not going to waste your time with big words and theories about leadership. Instead, I would like you to meet someone whose testimony alone was worth dozens of tasteless articles on the topic.

Like many good stories, it started with a very unexpected encounter. Not so long ago I started to look for managers and team leaders to listen to and discuss with them how they approach their jobs. In this context, I got particularly intrigued by Francisco Niéto Pérez and his title: barista manager. In just a couple of days, he would be so gracious with his time that we would have a one-hour phone call and he would even invite me to one of his current sites in BNP Paribas Fortis. From genuinely intrigued and curious, I quickly became amazed by how deep and extensive Francisco’s leadership capability was. It was unbelievable and I listened to him naturally tackle all the main problems and challenges that teams and team leaders face and struggle to overcome.

Progressively it occurred to me that Francisco was in the most exemplary position possible and that his testimony could give inspiration to many in a managerial position.

Customer hero — His whole mission is solely about constantly bringing customer experience to the next level. He has worked in different environments, including NATO and UCB Pharma, and he now manages 6 people spread over 2 sites at BNP Paribas Fortis. While many companies and project teams, unfortunately, lose sight of their customers and end-users, Francisco doesn’t have a choice: he is always serving them behind the bar and making sure every product and service is outstanding (and he loves it!). He will know your name and your favorite drink by heart. Francisco is the embodiment of the notion of service.

Product management master — Francisco is also one of the best examples of product developers and managers that I have ever met. Quickly it didn’t matter so much that we were talking about offering new sorts of coffee or tea, trying out new flavors or new ways of presenting products, etc. It boils down to how willing you are to understand your customers’ needs, how good you are at collecting information and how dedicated and driven you are to implement. Then, it’s all about trying, testing and learning.

Stakeholder management master too — It only seems natural that he would be fine with stakeholders. The reason is simple: while he has several layers of potentially conflicting stakeholders (the catering company he works for, the company he works at, his team members and sometimes other managers on sites e.g.), he tries to do what is in the best interest of customers. Almost every time, he succeeds in implementing a new product or service because he has surveyed their opinion and he has explicit data to support his decision, even the most innovative and disruptive ones.

Model of agility — Are you annoyed sometimes by the burden of processes in your organization? Do you wish you would have more freedom and autonomy? It is easy to feel crushed or trapped. Having said that, can you honestly imagine a sector where there are more processes and protocols than catering (except the army, maybe)? It’s probably one of the most conservatives. Yet again, I was amazed by how Francisco was able to shake things up a bit and find some fresh air along the process lines for him and his team members.

Before talking to Francisco, little did I know that I would get a lesson on leadership.

Of course, he wasn’t looking to give any lessons, because he is not like that. He made things sound so natural and simple that I want to share with you 9 points that I hope will inspire you and help you on your daily responsibilities.

I believe that these 9 points are what makes a good leader, fit for the 21st century and the growing appetite for freedom, meaning, and fulfillment:

1. No matter what you do, focus on your customers

Nothing matters more than ensuring that you have created the best customer experience. Your end-user MUST be happy about your service or product. Customers are your best North Star, they legitimate your action(s). You might be caught in between stakeholders with diverging interests and it can get messy. As long as you keep on satisfying your customers, you are most likely to do the right thing.

2. Trust your gut

This could be an extension of the first point: trust your gut when it comes to making decisions, especially if they are innovative ones. If you work with people, partners or stakeholders that you respect and if you are passionate about bringing the best service to your customer(s), you will most probably end up being right. Sometimes it is worth shaking things up.

3. Empower others

No matter the job or the position, everybody should be empowered to grow, take actions and make decisions that one can feel proud of. Francisco knows well that being an employee with the worker status does not mean that you can’t cultivate and apply some entrepreneurial mindset and have the stamina to do things for the best. There is no need for any entrepreneurship program to start changing things. Similarly, why should changing job and responsibilities be associated with promotions and a vertical development? There are a lot of opportunities to help people develop horizontally, changing the way they work towards more satisfaction as they grow.

4. Be passionate

Passion is key. If you want to inspire people to work with you and listen to your advice and recommendations, you would better believe in the value of what you do and the positive effect it has on people. You will naturally convey that feeling of strength and passion that you get from doing your job well.

5. Listen, wholeheartedly listen

You have to tune in psychologically to every team member if you want to get the best performance from them. You should listen to them and do your best to understand their motivations, how they learn, what they are good at, what they like doing, etc. It requires repeated one-to-one quality conversations. People work at their best when they feel like they are responsible for their actions. When you are empowered enough to make some decisions about how you want to work and why, you find your days to be more meaningful and fulfilling.

6. Reveal people’s signature

Pedagogy is tremendously important to help team members better understand themselves. In such a job where there are a lot of procedures and a strong hierarchy, it can seem difficult to find one’s voice and style. Francisco is making his best to reveal everyone’s signature and help his teammates grasp the essential part of the freedom and autonomy they have. It could be seen as dangerous and counterproductive for many conservative people, as it would sometimes challenge existing processes. Instead, it respects people’s desire to grow and it ensures every site has its own vibe and identity in some ways.

7. Set emotions aside

To have good and healthy working relationships, it helps to set emotions aside. That was probably the hardest thing to apply for Francisco since he likes interacting and connecting with people so much. To lead effectively (especially in a tough and high-paced environment), to see things through and truly keep human-centered values as your main concerns, you have to think straight and use your head first.

8. Make people shine

Give credit to people. Whenever it is possible, value your team members’ ideas and allow them to shine in front of other stakeholders or customers.

9. Earn respect

You get respect from what you do and how you behave with people, not by demanding it. This is why you should lead by influencing others positively, by caring and setting the best examples.

If I had to explain in one word why Francisco’s testimony was so strong and relevant to me, I would say relationships.

In everything that he does daily, his view of leadership is based on relationships, probably because it has been crafted along the years from his love and curiosity for other people. Francisco is a fantastic leader because he catalyzes shared purposes and aspirations while making sure that all his team members develop their signatures. While there are conservative processes and a strong hierarchy in his business, he works very hard to respect and honor the developmental nature of his collaborators and empower them so that they find their way of being, learning and doing.

21st Century Leadership is oriented toward being inclusive, collaborative, and of service, to individuals, the social good, and ecological sustainability. — J. Rost

I have no doubt that Francisco is one of these 21st century leaders, giving endlessly and managing for the good of others, be it customers and team members. It only makes sense to me to follow his example if we want to change our interdependent and complex world for the better.

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