Leadership lessons in a call center

In 1996 I moved from Thompson Manitoba to the big city, Winnipeg.  Having recently moved I didn’t have any local references for a job and ended up working in a large bar, Zaxx. Although working at the bar was fun I found myself unable to get enough rest to apply myself at university.

The call center boom was in full effect in Winnipeg and I decided to apply for a sales job at AT&T Canada.  Following a three days sales training course I was given a cubical, headset and script to follow.  What I was doing is called cold calling in the industry. My first day was a great success I managed to sign up seven people in a three hour period on my last day of training, and I felt like a superstar. The following day I came to work ambitious and eager to repeat my previous success.

Two weeks passed and I didn’t get a single sale.  Carol my manager approached me and told me that unfortunately I would have to be let me go if I was unable to turn things around. No feedback, No guidance, No advice, Nothing.

Frustrated I talked to the floor manager Sharon Knight, who assured me that she believed that I was capable of learning how to sell.

She didn’t tell me any specific way to do the job she simply asked me, “how do you think you can make this better?”.   Sharon also told me that she didn’t ever want me to come to her with a problem without at least one solution first.  This made me think about  what was the issue and come up with my own solutions.

I decided to find people who were doing well, making sales and sat near them. The performance information is something that was easily available on a sales chart in the coffee room. I was at the bottom of the chart and I looked way up and sat beside the best sales performers.  Between calls I would listen to what they said and did and try to emulate them.  They mentored me, I got better.  So much better that I was promoted to an elite sales team, the Platinum team, and received large bonuses for sales. Then it struck me I now knew a secret, if you want to be the best at something you need to find people that are the best and emulate them, a concerted effort.

This realization that you can alter your own outcomes wasn’t something new to me but truly believing it, in myself, and acting on it was.  Had Sharon simply given me some answers I would have been dependent on her to provide me with more and more.  What she did was believe in me an empower me. I went on to become a manager and trainer because of one positive conversation I had had with one great leader who asked me what I thought I could do to make things better. Now as a school leader I ask people what do you think and allow them the time and space to come up with their own answers.

Here are some things I learned in the call center about leadership…

  1. Leaders recognize potential and feed it
  2. Leaders identify goals and give those they lead the space and resources to achieve
  3. Leaders trust that those who are working for them will find a way to get things done
  4. Leaders maintain a global view of the world and act locally to achieve the larger goals
  5. Leaders ask questions like “What do you think?”
  6. Leaders encourage inovation and risk taking
  7. Leaders resist giving quick answers and allow others to lead

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