No matter how important a job you have or position you hold, don’t ever forget that there’s one main ingredient in being a good leader, let alone a great one…

Your people.

Once had this discussion with a new boss of mine (who got the job that I truly wanted & legitimately deserved) during MY annual performance review.

His part of evaluating me took about 5 minutes, especially since he admitted that I knew way more about the business than he ever could.

Then he asked me, “How come I feel that the people don’t trust me? They seem to adore you, but me?”

“Well, Bob, it seems to me that you believe that the department is somehow in your PC & those reports.

“You see those people out there? The kids with the headsets on? THAT’S YOUR DEPARTMENT! THEY ARE THE BUSINESS!

“You stay in your office with the door closed all day. You come out once in a while, go up to the Control Desk & listen into some calls on the monitoring phone.

“Why would they want to trust you? What do you do for them?

“You seem more interested in tracking where the ship is going than actually trying to help steer it…or getting down alongside your crew.

Seriously now.”

That’s the God’s honest truth!

He got the job as he was already a VP whose business unit (Remote Banking trial run by our Citicards partner) was terminated & he happened to be working down the block from our site.

Plus, my boss’s boss was an asshole!

He came in & thought his job was merely to
manage the organization. Well, there’s a helluva lot difference between managing & leading.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the comparison charts with “This is what a Boss says & does” & “This is what a Leader says & does” so I don’t have to preach about that here.

(I know, I know…”You already do enough preachin’, Mike!”)

Basically, when you truly lead, you’re leading people, not an organization.

You can run an organization, operate an organization & manage an organization…but you can only lead PEOPLE!

You must be obsessed with their welfare. With how they feel about stuff. You must talk with them…all together, in smaller groups, individually. You must sit with them & try to experience what they do.

It would be great if you could actually do their job & better than them. If you know everything about what they do, how & why.

How else are you really gonna be able to relate directly to them, on their level, if you’re here & they’re there?

And don’t forget that they’re people, too. Nor robots. Not numbers. Not even employees.


Plain, normal, everyday people.

And they actually have lives outside of the office.

A couple of stories…

Whenever I took over a new or different business/department/whatever, I always reminded my managers that their people “did not leave their personal lives…complete with problems & joys & challenges & achievements…in their glove compartments when they came in the front door this morning!”

Leaders must be cognizant of what’s going on with their people. You don’t hafta be a spy or a nosy body. You just need to be aware.

You need to be approachable. 100% of the time.

I’ve always had an open-door policy for everyone in my organization.

If it’s open, just come on in.

If it’s closed, just knock & come on in. If I can stop what I’m doing, I will. If not, you’re always welcome to wait while I finish.

If it’s locked, you can still knock. If I answer, great. If I don’t, I’m probably not there.

You need to create an open atmosphere where your people truly believe that they’re your #1 priority!

For the next “story”…

Once, I was “punished” with this new manager when I assumed responsibility for a department I had run a few years prior.

See, the problem was that he never should have been promoted in the first place as he was way too immature, pretty irresponsible & simply not equipped to lead people.

I inherited him.

And I knew he wasn’t going to be effective as his business results were below par & significantly lower than his peers’.

One day, I’m walking around (like I would do REGULARLY) & I noticed these pieces of paper scotch-taped to the monitors at different workstations.


(This particular team basically worked a M-F, 8-5 shift, with a smaller crew on Saturday. One of their main responsibilities was to handle inquiries & issues from our branches & that specific “phone gate” opened at 8:00 AM CT sharp.)

I hit the roof & brought Team Leader X into my office.

“Didn’t I ask you to pass everything by Sherry (the Asst VP & his direct supervisor) before you took action on any activities & such?”


“Did you discuss having this team meeting so early in the morning with Sherry?”

“No, but I didn’t think that…”

“Excuse me. But that’s not what I asked you to do. I specifically said, pass everything by Sherry, right?”

He nodded.

“Do you realize just how many of your people have children at home? I’d guess 85-90%, at least and I believe you have all ladies working for you but one guy.”

Again, he nodded in agreement.

“Do you realize that, in the morning, these Moms are trying to get their kids off to school or dropping them off at Day Care or at the babysitter, all while getting themselves ready for work?”

He just sat there silently.

“And what was so important that you wanted your whole team to come in early instead of having a meeting, or split-team meetings, during the days when we can work with the Control Desk & properly plan for coverage?”


“Do you have an agenda or a list of topics you were going to discuss that I can see?”

Again, silence.


“Please remove those signs now & make sure you work directly with Sherry in planning your team meeting…who, what, where & when.

“Do you understand exactly what I’ve asked of you?”


Should I even mention that he eventually did have a full team meeting about a week later?

When I got paged by the Control Desk at 8:05 as my department was currently blowing up?!?

That none of his people (we have a total of 4 teams to cover 6 AM – 10 PM, Mon – Sat) were on the phones? That his unit comprised 1/2 the staffing when the East Coast branches opened @ 8:00?!?

That he wasn’t answering his phone?!?

That no one, including Sherry who happened to be sitting next to me at the regular 8:00 site managers’ meeting, knew where the hell he was & what he was doing?!?

Not sure I’ve ever been more angry or disappointed in one of my people ever before!

Or after.

Lo & behold, he decided to hold a meeting, right at 8:00 sharp, when his team started their shift…right as we opened the Branch Service Station gate…without Sherry knowing about it…without the Control Desk knowing about it (a manager MUST plan these things in advance so the phones could be appropriately covered during their absence)…and he didn’t have the foggiest idea that when you take 1/2 the staffing resources needed to handle incoming calls, without replacing them with other people, the business tends to explode right before your eyes!

And let’s not forget my EXACT INSTRUCTIONS…”work directly with Sherry in planning your meeting!”

In a call center, everything is closely tracked & measured so we’re able to properly plan for the right resources, and the right number of resources, to effectively & efficiently meet our forecasted call arrivals…by 15 minute-segments throughout the entire day.

It’s important to have a strict regimen (for lunches, breaks, training, meetings, etc.) or else, the calls will back up & it could take hours until you’re able to once again provide timely service for your callers.

Running a call center requires this type of planning…and execution if you wanna do the job right.

Needless to see, I had a very long discussion with Team Leader X later that day.

I reviewed his performance to date, including the previous written warning he received & his results since then, and basically informed him that there was no improvement whatsoever.

In fact, his team’s numbers were going down. This latest incident was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

By rule, I should have placed him on a formal PIP…Performance Improvement Plan.

He would have 90 days to get his measured performance up to an acceptable, clearly-stated level…or he would be terminated.

There would be no additional chances or warning given. No other options would be available…meet the standards outlined or you’re fired.

That was the corporate policy.

I knew, deep down in my heart, that he was totally incapable of doing that (meeting standard). Now, he never, ever should’ve been promoted to Team Leader in the first place, but that happened before I returned to that group. He had been a rep during my first go-’round.

And I didn’t want to see him fired. He was put into a position where it was simply impossible for him to succeed from the beginning.

And if you think I was just “being mean to him”, we already invested sooooooo much time & effort (individual reviews, group training, one-on-ones, etc.) to help improve his performance.

I laid out all the cards on the table for him.

“If I put you on the PIP, you know & I know that you will not be able to meet those standards in 3 months…and I will have no other choice than to fire you.

“The fact is that you’re simply not able to effectively lead a team. At this point, more coaching & training is too late to be effective as you’ve already been receiving that since your last written warning.

“What I will do for you to transfer you to the XYZ Unit in Bldg 1.

“You’ll be able to not only keep your job, but also your title & your current pay. You won’t have to manage anyone but yourself & you’ll have the opportunity to make a brand-new start.

“You can concentrate on you & only you, instead of trying to juggle everything that a Team Leader does while being responsible for 22 other people & having to answer for their performance.

“I think you’ll find this new type of work environment better suited for your talents & abilities. You’ll just have to apply yourself, get up to speed on the technical aspects of the position & you should have no issue being successful.”

Yes, I could have easily put him in that PIP & then released him 90 days later, but I was worried about him & really wanted him somewhere where he had a better chance of doing well without facing responsibilities for which he was neither capable of handling satisfactorily nor prepared.

I got him transferred over in a few days by pulling some strings & “calling in a couple of markers”. (See, when you help others, you then have the chance to ask for reciprocal help in the future. ALWAYS seek to help first so you can build up a nice inventory of “favors” that people owe you!)

I called in a couple to make the transfer happen quickly, smoothly & without fanfare.

Everything seemed to work out well for all parties concerned.

What eventually happened to Mr. X?, you ask.

He was terminated about 6 months later after a string of absences, excessive/unapproved time away from his workstation, several verbal & written warnings for sub-par performance and the like.

It’s really quite sad. When he transferred, he really had the opportunity to do well.

However, when you tend to roam around the campus, trying to pick up girls, perhaps a corporate work environment is just not for you.

Bottom line…your people will be the key to your success as well as the organization’s.

Treat them as the most valuable resources that they are.

Thank you once again for listening!

BTW, Sup Gate. A_dy. Mo. Branch Help Desk. 😉

Posted in:

Subscribe to Mike's Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent Comments

Leave a Reply