Can you imagine having a job where your entire role revolves around dealing with stressed out, and often, very irritated customers? Where basically everyone complains about all that is wrong, and expects you to fix the issue?
This is the everyday reality of most airline gate agents. As I witnessed recently, they often get to see the worst in human behavior. Yet much of the complaints they field (delays, status upgrade denials, and other first-world problems) are outside their ability to resolve.
One of the biggest frustrations most leaders share with me is somewhat similar to the situation above: team members show up at their “counter,” point out all that is wrong with the company, and then expect the leader to fix the problem without having to take action themselves!
One of our most important jobs as leaders is to first create a culture open to all kinds of feedback. So as irritating as negative feedback is, it is preferable to silence, and actually a positive sign as it relates to the culture of the organization.
Unlike an airline gate agent, however, a leader has power, or at least influence, to make change possible. Resolving the problem is of extreme importance, but the leader shouldn’t always do this on their own. In fact, the other person often can have a role to play in solving whatever problem they have brought to light.
An organization with a culture open to feedback will only thrive with a second component. Every leader must also aim to create a culture of mutual accountability and support. We need to make our “gate agents” into leaders with influence and power. We need to help our team members know that they, too, have the ability to address the problem they see. This may mean that we need to support them, even defend their view when we think it is the right one, and be present when others inside the organization push back against them.
And the organization will push back when they perceive the feedback is coming from someone who doesn’t have the title. (On a personal note, this reality really gets me going. Truth is truth; I don’t give a rip where it comes from, nor the “title” of the person sharing it. All I care about is whether the idea or feedback has merit. Often I find people won’t even consider the feedback’s truthfulness, however, unless it comes from someone with a fancy acronym in their title. How foolish!)
Imagine if a leader at the airline had the “back” of the airline gate agent when they waived a fee or helped a stranded passenger get home earlier than expected? (That scenario sadly sounds too good to be true anymore.)
How delighted would the customer be?
How empowered would the gate agent feel?
How satisfied with their day’s work?
To be sure, the leader is always – or should always be – the “extreme owner.” Even so, they need to teach their followers that they also have a role in solving whatever issue they bring to light.
In a true team environment, everyone plays a role in improving the organization!