This week, we’re sharing a post that I co-authored with Jim Coleman, the co-founder of xFusion. I recently had the opportunity to join Jim on the Fuse Show for a fireside chat. Jim is a passionate founder, and from our conversation, we both realized how much we appreciate the need for top-notch leadership in support. Coming out of our conversation, we wanted to co-author and share some of the topics we’d discussed, particularly around finding great support team leaders.
Lucky for us, our collective experiences have allowed us the privilege to learn more about the qualities of great support team leaders. We recognize leaders have a hard time trying to strike a balance between keeping customers happy, mentoring team members, and meeting expectations of leadership. It is difficult to excel in these competing areas! Here’s what we see the best leaders doing:
An empathetic leader shows a higher understanding of people's needs, experiences, and contexts. They constantly prove they genuinely care about more than the bottom line and are devoted to the wellbeing of all team members.
Empathy isn’t feeling sorry for people, but putting yourself in their shoes. Empathetic leaders understand challenges faced by team members, take the time to understand the root cause of them and brainstorm solutions together for the good of the team.
It’s easier to show empathy if you understand the golden rule of living; do unto others as you would like done unto you. How do you react when an agent who is a single mom tells you they need to miss a shift to attend parent day at school? Do you encourage them to go or add to their stress by reminding them how important it is to separate personal from work life?
In this case, an empathetic leader will ask the agent to go on to school and reassure them that they’ll have someone fill in for the time they're away. By showing empathy, the team leader builds a culture of supportiveness amongst the team, who ultimately will naturally fill in for and support one another. Such support not only benefits the business, but it also turns colleagues into people who truly care about one another.
Good leaders can confidently instruct people and empower them. They are teachers who want to impart knowledge, rather than just solve problems.
Instead of replying, "I'll handle it myself," whenever team members ask questions, a good support leader takes the time to show exactly how to do things. That equips the team member with knowledge for the future and leaves the leader with more time to focus on developing strategies to better guide the team and deliver better outcomes for customers.
The trick is to teach, and then leave the team to it, only stepping in to offer guidance as needed. Seasoned support leaders take performant autonomy seriously. This means instilling a sense in your team that you trust them to do their best job without lingering over their shoulders.
Where there is performant autonomy, people naturally go the extra mile.
It is the leader's responsibility to make people feel like they’re a valuable part of the business. We’ve found motivation is one of the primary means to that end. Whether using tangible incentives or verbal praise, positive reinforcement ultimately creates a sense of ownership, making team members more passionate and productive. As one of the team leaders at xFusion likes to put it, "Motivation is to the team members as water is to plants."
Praising people for doing their job well doesn’t make you look like less of a leader. We have both observed that people tend to be reluctant to praise their team members, worrying that it might make them look lazy or unproductive. Quite the opposite is true. Motivational leaders see their team’s successes as their own and are always excited to celebrate individual successes. They know that when a team member succeeds, it is testament to their great leadership. Additionally, praise gives team members an extra incentive to perform at their best.
Many believe that motivation must only be positive. On the contrary, radical candor (feedback that is both clear and kind, specific and genuine) is necessary for individuals to grow and succeed in their career. Often, the most motivating conversations are those where a leader takes the time to thoughtfully provide honest feedback, and work with the individual to improve or stretch into a bigger role. A motivating leader will use moments where someone has made a mistake to step up to lift dampened spirits, acknowledge the error, and praise efforts to mitigate damage.
Instead of blunt criticism, a motivator helps people see mistakes as learning opportunities rather than punishable offenses.
I think of the Swiss Army Knife model when explaining flexibility to aspiring leaders. A Swiss knife can tighten screws, open a letter, and snip a loose thread. It only takes a quick flick to perform multiple different functions.
Leading a team often requires wearing different hats to fill in gaps or adjust to changes in team dynamics, and good leaders tend to be quite comfortable switching gears on the fly.
A support team leader must be able to modify their style without it affecting performance. A competent leader must stay prepared for unprecedented circumstances such as a significant shift in work hours or stepping in for team members on short notice. A flexible support team leader must get into the role knowing that change is the only constant.
Like change, conflict in the workplace is a given. As much as people try their best, colleagues will inevitably rub each other the wrong way. This means individuals we pick for such a position must excel at conflict resolution. Can they listen to both sides without bias? Do they cringe and shy away from trouble? Answering these questions will help you determine your prospective leader’s readiness to be a support team leader.
Notably, the best mediators are patient listeners who do not rush to conclusions without facts. They are intuitive people who can see beyond the surface to identify the root of the problem before making a call that’s fair. Good leaders keep a pulse check on team dynamics and can quickly read situations and quell tensions before they bubble up. Lastly, good leaders also maintain and balance an appropriate degree of assertiveness for this crucial mediation role.
Communication is an essential skill for leaders across all fields but is particularly crucial to support team leaders. Leaders in the support industry must effectively coordinate both internally with their teams and other colleagues as well as customers to ensure top-tier performance and optimal satisfaction.
Someone who can fill such a position will have mastered the principles of effective communication: clear, concise, concrete, coherent, complete, and courteous. A leader who understands these principles will inform the team of expectations, relay feedback, and coordinate effectively.
It’s worth noting that in our post-Covid remote workforce world, tip top communication skills are in high demand and critical in a remote work environment. Many of us no longer have the benefit of casual in-person banter, and thus a focus on excellent communication is more important than ever as the key to effective leadership in a remote work world.
Choosing the right talent for your team is hard enough, but it’s even more challenging to pick leaders from the lot. Remember, the people you choose affect customer service and your business as a whole. It’s well worth your effort to make the right choice at the outset to minimize frustration in the team and among your clients. Consider making the above list your “Team Lead Checklist,” if your aim is to net the best fish in the pond.
xFusion.io helps startups scale by growing and leading teams that provide top-tier customer support, back-office support, and customer success.
Hi! I’m Sam. I’m from a small town in regional Australia and now re-designing the software industry. I’ve been in the US for over 5 years (previously at Bain & Co) and am obsessed with the incredible landscapes. Catch me riding bikes, watching cricket, playing with any dogs nearby, and trying new croissants whenever possible.
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