An Introduction to Leadership Styles


What are the right leadership styles to use in the contact centre?  Christine Knott investigates…

Check out leadership via the web or book store and you will discover numerous management theories and styles from a collection of experts. It’s possible that some newly appointed leaders study the options and consider which style they would like to adopt before taking on their new role, but highly unlikely.

Once appointed, some people slip into a style that stays with them, others may change as result of the feedback and results they experience.

Below are listed the styles from the theories of Kurt Lewin, summarising the roles adopted. Do you recognise your style amongst them? Could you be encouraged to take yourself out of your comfort zone and step into an alternative role to experience the results it can offer?

Autocratic- ‘Don’t do as I do, do as I say’

‘I know what needs to be done and how I want it done and there is no room for compromise, so I dictate the state of play.  I wouldn’t waste time asking my staff for input or ideas, that’s not why they are employed. I never get too close to my staff – that would never do, it could lead to difficult situations. Keep your distance and let them know who’s boss.

‘Let’s face it, if we are faced with an urgent situation someone would have to take control and make a decision.’

Democratic – ‘Let’s work through this together and then I’ll make a decision’

‘I like to encourage the team to contribute ideas and solutions because it helps their development, moving them towards a successful future. Without doubt my team is more motivated and creative as a result of their involvement. After discussions I make the decision based on the information facing me. After all, at the end of the day, the buck stops with me.

‘No one has the monopoly on ideas and when we have the luxury of time on our side it’s a perfect opportunity to see what my staff are made of. They enjoy it.’

Laissez-faire -‘You know what you have to do, so get on with it’

‘I see no point getting involved with what everyone is doing. They know what is expected of them and can do the job quite easily without my input.  They are pretty ungrateful, though. Despite the fact that I let them make their own decisions they seem to lack motivation.

At the end of the day, these guys know their jobs better than I do. Allowing them to make their own decisions is a form of development. Sometimes their mistakes can be costly but it’s not a problem when the project can withstand the mistakes, it’s a great learning curve then.’

Action Centered Leadership

John Adair developed the Action Centered Leadership model during the 1960-70s. This model considers the  responsibilities towards an individual would include:

  • Knowing each individual’s strengths and areas for improvement
  • Outline to each group player their individual responsibilities and objectives
  • Reward with extra responsibility
  • Recognise and praise efforts and successes

Examples of good leadership

So who can we look to today as examples of good leadership? Whose books can we take a leaf from? Has anyone made mistakes in today’s market that we can learn from?  Two current excellent entrepreneurs spring to mind as demonstrating great leadership skills.

Julian Richer, founder of the electrical empire Richer Sounds, can demonstrate success through his style of leadership. Likewise John Timpson, Chairman and Chief Executive of Timpson’s Ltd., famed for the high-street business of key cutting and shoe repairs. Both believe and live the process of involving their teams (Lewin’s Participative Style). Both can boast highly motivated workforces and high levels of customer service – two simple secrets to success.

I have spoken to employees from both organisations and have heard only positive comments about how their employers lead their businesses. They are motivated to work hard and deliver above expectations for a ‘boss’ they hold in high esteem. The reason? Because they knew what their respective leaders were aiming to achieve and understood that they were an integral part of the machinery. They took their role of delivering what they believed to be the best route to help resolve a customer issue seriously.

Here are a few tips to improve leadership

1. Allow employees the authority to resolve a customer service issue

To place the decision for customer service in the hands of an employee may be deemed risky by some leaders. There are processes and procedures to follow. For other leaders it will seem an obvious and genius route to follow. After all, no two customers are the same, how can any procedure or process settle all issues?  Any fear of handing over such authority can be dispelled by the control that the leader should be exercising in the business. Communicate to your team the boundaries within which they can work and monitor to ensure that they are keeping within them.

2. Talk to your staff

If as a new leader you need to know what is happening in the business, talk to your staff – they generally have the answers and know most about an organisation. Feedback from your workforce is paramount.

3. Maintain a strong position

Maintain a strong position – if leadership is weak, staff become demotivated, which in turn has an effect on customer service resulting in lower profits.

4. Communicate effectively with your team

Tell them what your vision is and keep them in touch with it. They need to know their involvement and their responsibilities in terms of achieving your vision. Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more!  When you have communicated, check they understand and that goes further than just saying ‘Do you understand?’, which of course will no doubt be met with the response ‘Yes’. Ask them what they have to do and when they have to do it by. Ask them to tell you what your vision is and make sure they are specific responses.

5. Think of you and your team on a bus journey

You are driving the bus and on board you have your team. It is your job to communicate your destination and your route to your team. Failure to do so means they have no idea why they are on the bus in the first place. The result is they will try and guess, they will study the passing scenery, talk amongst themselves and closely watch your every move, all in pursuit of trying to establish why they are on the bus, where it is going and the route you are following. They will draw their own conclusions, which may well be completely wrong. Based on their own conclusions they may make assumptions about what they are supposed to do on the bus and take irrelevant or unnecessary actions which could cost you time and money as the leader of the bus.

6. Delegate correctly

Good leadership is about delegating correctly too. Imagine being the driver of the bus and deciding that you will do the wheel changes and servicing yourself, along with planning any diversions to the route. All this despite the fact that you have qualified engineers, route planners and the ex-workforce of Kwik Fit on board! Delegate and do it effectively so that your team know exactly what their responsibilities are. Set objectives for the delegated work with measurements in place and the achievement of them will no doubt be successful. If it isn’t, could it be because your objectives were not clear enough or your checking and monitoring procedures were not sufficient?

7. Mistakes should be regarded as learning curves

In the event of an unsuccessful mission, what can be learnt from it to ensure success next time? Good delegation leads to highly motivated team members.

Lead by demonstrating in a positive, energised, and customer-focused way and your flock will follow with enthusiasm, pride and in a highly motivated manner.

Christine Knott

Christine Knott

By Christine Knott, Managing Director of specialist training consultancy Beyond The Box

Author: Christine Knott

Published On: 10th Feb 2010 - Last modified: 30th Apr 2024
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  • Very informative and enlightened article

    A samuel 11 Feb at 04:21
  • I was “brought up” in a Call Centre that had the elements of, Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez- Fair in it and it work brilliantly. We worked within the so called “Fish Tank” environment were the principle was that a parameter was established (the tank, with elements of Autocratic en Democratic decision making) and within the parameter (the tank) you could swim with freedom (combination of agent empowerment, and Laissez- Fair management). This work very well but i have to add that it was a “mature” which had an elements of a Healthy commission structure and Internal Competition between the 3 teams.

    I took over a call centre that was on the slide so my philosophy was to start with telling people what was expected of them, leaving them to do it up to the point where the abused the Laissez- Fair (mission accomplished), then rained it back with a bit an autocratic leadership, brining in a mixture of Democratic and Laissez- Fair and now they respect their environment and leadership style and we are in the process of creating our fish tank.

    Rikus Louw 11 Feb at 14:14
  • Most leaders do not strictly use one or another,but are somewhere on a continuum ranging from extremely positive to extremely negative.Negative leaders act domineering and superior with people.They believe the only way to get things done is through penalties,such as loss of job, days off without pay,reprimand employees in front of others,etc.They believe their authority is increased by frightening everyone into higher lever of productivity. Yet what always happens when this approach is used wrongly is that morale falls;which of course leads to lower productivity.

    Leadership styles 15 Feb at 11:43
  • One thing I’ve noticed a lot of leaders in call center lack is #1 – Allow employees the authority to resolve a customer service issue. And this is speaking from experience. Its so funny when you talk to a customer and explain to them a certain procedure which you know for a fact is true and then when it gets escalated the leader gives another story, basically undermining all your efforts.. its so wrong…

    Mckechnies 17 Feb at 18:32