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A Manifesto: The Powerful Value of Servant Leadership in the Call Center Industry

The cutting edge of Call Center performance improvement is often focused on acquiring new technology or discovering new processes. It’s what’s sexy nowadays in our industry, and a lot of attention is given to IT development and investing in consultants who are experts at determining the best processes.

That is all fine and good, but my question is… what, without a doubt, significantly impacts the overall effectiveness of both IT and process improvements yet is so often overlooked?

It’s the frontline professional, the “people” part of our industry’s triune focus of technology, process and people.

What impacts our frontliners most each day? It’s their leaders and more specifically the “kind“ or “type” of leadership that is advocated by their managers, supervisors and coaches.

If you want to maximize the value from your considerable investment in technology and process improvements, then look at how your people are led. Seek to better understand how your frontline call center professionals respond to the leadership style of their managers, supervisors and coaches. Are they forced to comply with a set of standards while attempting to help your customer? Are they frustrated by this and become negative and attrite far too soon? Do they rebel against this style of leadership by losing heart and effort in their job? Or, on the contrary, are they empowered to advocate for your customer? Are they led in a manner that communicates their value as people and to the company that gives them autonomy so that they can govern themselves appropriately even without constant supervision? The servant leadership model facilitates the latter.

I advocate for the servant leadership style for many reasons, some practical, some philosophical. But mostly because it yields the best results and creates the most effective environment for a call center to succeed in the short and long term to accomplish its mission and purpose.

In the coming weeks, this blog will look at how I arrive at these opinions and why this way of leading is superior to the more traditional “power model” of leadership.

Next week, we will compare the two contrasting styles of leadership; the power leadership model vs. the servant leadership model.

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Joshua Houser — 10:13AM on Apr 21, 2011

I believe the greatest leaders in the world were true servant leaders. The 'Power Model Leadership' as referred to by Tom is only effective to a point. In my experience, leaders that use the Power Model Leadership are usually insecure and more worried about protecting their job rather than investing in the interests of the company. Employees working for the Power Model Leader work (normally) for two reason, first is to not to get fired and the second is to get a paycheck. In the Servant Leadership model you will have more employees working to accomplish something great and wanting to do a great job for their boss and the company. Employees under the Servant Leadership model feel safer to make decisions to take care of the customer and money is not the central focus of their work, only a bi-product.

Nice work Tom, I am really looking forward to your future blog’s on the Servant Leadership model.

Jason Stokes — 10:29AM on Apr 21, 2011

Outstanding outlook on leadership. Too often as leaders individuals fail to view outside the box of their own desires or goals and look at the customer experience as a whole. The idea of servant leadership (I hope) will encourage others to look outside themselves and refocus on the customer experience through empowered employees.

Very well done Tom. I'm not a big blog person because of the typical length of the information. You kept it short and sweet and have me eager to see what is to come. You've captivated the audience.

Rich Goaslind — 11:00AM on Apr 21, 2011

Well-said Tom. I appreciate your insight in this area. If the individual helping the customer does not feel empowered to make a difference for the customer, the amount of money we spend on technology does not even matter. In my experience this empowerment comes through leaders who can instill confidence in their employees that what they do really matters. When employees believe in a cause they are happier and take much better care of the customer.
Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

Shane Campbell — 12:32PM on Apr 21, 2011

Love this article. Nice job Tom. I agree with what everyone has said. I have found that if you are passionate about your work and serving people you will be successful. If you are curious about how people get things done you will find a way that will work. Being passionately curious in business is a great approach as a servant leader. Keeping things simple, having great confidence, great team spirit, serving people and being passionately curious are key things to be a great leader.

Tom you have always had great insight, I look forward to more blogs!

Scott Taylor — 11:15PM on Apr 21, 2011

Tom, what I wouldn't give to have utilized, learned, and developed this years ago. It has been a priceless tool to me recently. I may have felt like I was always servicing a purpose, servicing a greater outcome, but the direction of that "service" was mechanical, cold structure: "The end justifies the means.."
For some of us, "power leadership" may be more natural "out of the gate": nature or nurture, from where ever it comes, it comes... we start off with a bang! Get it done! And we do. It works for a while, we accomplish much on the surface, but at the end: no loyalty is won, and at the end of the vast amount of effort extended, we are left with nothing in the way of lasting relationships to get us through the never ending storm of progress, development, and striving for excellence: that equals strategic market advantage.
The strongest loyalty and most substantial returns I have ever seen from my support of others as a Manager are when I have truly taken time to focus, set everything aside, and work hard on developing my team and supervisors from the stand point of wanting "their success". Focusing on the individual truly for the individuals sake and success, while coaching on true "customer empathy" and "advocay", the service and support being delivered is no longer mechanical, pure structure without heart or care, and it is certainly not done for only the sake of the "machine".
True servant leadership: finding a way/time to forget one's self, despite of all pressures at hand, and focussing on the success of each supervisor or agent that directly falls under our opportunity to coach, elevate, and support. These are the Professionals that deliver outstanding service now to others... and they "Pay it Forward". The return is loyalty, and the highest competitive advantage.
...Spending years not understanding this my sincere request: Blog your thoughts on "Teaching Servant Leadership and Servant Minded Work Ethic at Entry Level", or "Understanding Servant Leadership from the First Day on the Job"
- I am looking forward to your continuing Blogs Tom.

Mark Stokes — 7:19PM on Apr 22, 2011

I love the article Tom. I look forward to more discussion on this topic. These are principles that I am always looking to integrate into my coaching style.

Valerie Strickland — 7:43PM on Apr 22, 2011

Tom I really appreciate your article. I'm always looking for ways to motivate my professionals and supervisors. The insight you shared with us will be tremendously helpful. A pay check and job security will only get you so far. In my experience people perform better when there is meaning and a purpose to what they do. It's up to us as managers to communicate that meaning and purpose to our employees. I look forward to your future posts!

Danie Vik — 7:55PM on Apr 22, 2011

Tom, your wisdom on this topic is greatly appreciated. I particularly appreciated your insight on 'servant leadership'. I know how powerful servant leadership is and it is definitely a principle that everybody can benefit from if they would only apply it. Just as people lead from example, employees follow their bosses example. It's a incredibly simple concept that gets overlooked and it takes a dedicated leader to bring it back to the surface. Thanks for being that leader. I look forward to reading more posts from you.

Marc Camargo — 9:03PM on Apr 22, 2011

This leadership model changed my entire approach. I now view myself as a servant rather than a supervisor. When I come to work I understand that it is my job to help those that I lead instead of just directing them. Thanks Tom for the awesome leadership that you show!

Ryan Spaulding — 9:10PM on Apr 22, 2011

I think I have seen this model at work many times at different stages in my life. Until now however, I have never been able to put words to it. It makes perfect sense. Great job Tom. I'm excited to learn more about it.

Brandon Gauchay — 10:12PM on Apr 22, 2011

I feel you're hitting the nail right on the head when it comes to effectively leading others. I find the servant-leader model of leadership refreshing as it places value on the individual becoming a better person, which in turn leads to a better organization. You've got to start with those on the front lines if you're ever going to see any lasting improvements. I look forward to reading your next few posts!

— 7:55AM on Apr 23, 2011

It is so important to me that this is the type of leadership we strive for at Vivint. The leaders that I respect most in my life are those who are servant leaders. Thanks Tom for your example in this and striving to push this type of leadership forward.

Trent Miller — 9:23AM on Apr 23, 2011

Great article Tom! It should be every leaders goal to become a great servant leader . I'm excited to following furture posts!

Chris Cirac — 11:10AM on Apr 23, 2011

Love the article and excited for next week’s post. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have worked in call center environments that use the traditional “power model” approach and the results are almost always the same. The employees do not grow and end up doing just what they are told and only as much they are told. You are right on in stating that the servant leadership model is superior to the power model of leadership. I love working in an environment currently where the employees feel they are treated with dignity, respect, and compassion and desire to treat “their” customers in the same way. Excited for next weeks post.

Jordan Theurer — 7:27AM on Apr 24, 2011

I agree with you completely. I think we can all think of leaders who have used the “power leadership model”. But when we look back in history, the most influential leaders have all followed the servant leadership model. Like you stated in your article, a servant leader empowers those around them. In my experience, I have seen how empowering those we lead creates an environment that promotes growth and development which leads to a level of success that is not possible with any other type of leadership style.

Thanks for your insight. I am excited to read your future posts!

Jeff McDonald — 7:00AM on Apr 25, 2011


Thanks for your comments. It is great to see you be able to share your ideas with so many people via this post. I agree, and believe that the servant leadership model is much more effective and will lead anyone that uses it to true success. I look forward to to seeing you expound further on this idea in future posts.

David Peterson — 9:16AM on Apr 25, 2011

I agree Tom. My favorite point is the question if employees are empowered to advocate for the customers. A servant leader works to build this attribute and confidence in their people, while the power leadership model tends to minimize employee confidence, freedom and trust.

Christy Miller — 9:30AM on Apr 25, 2011

Amazing article! Servant leadership is both effective and important. Thanks Tom

Steve McKinney — 10:05AM on Apr 25, 2011

Excellent article, short and to the point. I have always tried to focus on servant leadsership, I just never knew it had a name! There is a fine line between being a leader who wants everyone to like him and wants respect and being a leader who leads by example and as a servant. In this way, your employees want, actually yearn to make you proud. Great job, I look forward to reading your next installment.

Casey Paulson — 10:12AM on Apr 25, 2011

I have found that the majority of the employees on my team perform the best when they do it for me. I have created a relationship with them that they do not want to let me down because of the things that I have done for them. They know that I have their best interests in mind and I don't want them to sell just so I can get a paycheck but because it will benefit them and their families.

Tanner Leavitt — 10:25AM on Apr 25, 2011

I have been looking at my management style as of late and wanted to tweak it. This article provided some great direction and I look forward to your future blogs on the subject. Thanks for your insight.

Cory Fielding — 11:20AM on Apr 25, 2011

Assuming our employees have a degree of reliability and integrity, if we give them the freedom to be proactive and creative, they will flourish. If we don't, they will be stifled and won't produce nearly as well.

I appreciate all the thoughts already given.

Kendra Fox — 11:32AM on Apr 25, 2011

Great post! This is the difference between good leaders and great leaders. If professionals know that their leaders are fully invested in their well-being and will support them in their jobs, then they will be more willing to go the extra mile for customer. Professionals will feel confident in their decisions to help the customer and will enjoy their own jobs more thoroughly. Negative attitudes will effectively disappear and the attrition rate will plummet. No matter what job someone is in, people always work best when their leaders put their people’s needs in front of their own.

Joe Strickland — 1:24PM on Apr 25, 2011

Excellent post Tom. The servant leadership model you wrote about is critical to effectively managing any call center. Empowering employees to take ownership of a call until it is resolved can't be achieved unless the manager listens and responds to employee concerns. I'm really looking forward to your future posts.

Eli Jarvis — 5:26PM on Apr 25, 2011

Having been put through the "ringer" with different types of management in past years, I completely agree with what has been stated in this article. It's a breath of fresh air to know that we can implement this style of management and see the fruits of our labors as opposed to running the same old route and getting the same old results. I am anxious to put this into practice starting now. Thanks Tom.

— 6:05PM on Apr 25, 2011

I love how "real" this article is!
Implementing servant leadership with managing 360 degrees around us is a proven way to create and maintain open, honest and HELPFUL relationships with all those we work with.

Dave Moore — 6:40PM on Apr 25, 2011

Great stuff Tom. I think that the idea of having good leadership is key to the success of the frontline employees and how they respond. Which in turn makes the company successful. Here is a great quote I like about servant leadership. "We must be silent before we can listen. We must listen before we can learn. We must learn before we can prepare. We must prepare before we can serve. We must serve before we can lead." ~ by William Arthur Ward as quoted in Leadership . . . with a human touch. June 1,1999. Looking forward to reading more in the future.

Eliot Bliss — 1:37PM on Apr 26, 2011

Thank you for the great post. Responsible corporate culture is created by servant leadership. I have begun to incorporate this concept in the interview process. To find those people that will become servant leaders we need to find the people that are already service oriented. I can't wait for more time to develope these processes.

Jenny Willis — 1:45PM on Apr 26, 2011

I think it is so important to provide Servant Leadership for our employees. The Servant Leadership model provides a positive work environment where employees feel valued and empowered to provide a great customer experience. Instead of focusing on negatives, Servant Leadership allows us to focus on the positive aspects of our employees and work environment. I believe that this form of leadership enables the highest level of motivation for us to reach out to customers.

focus on positives
empowering them to reach out to customers
finding satisfaction in their job

Dana Peterson — 10:33PM on Apr 26, 2011


I loved your article. Servant Leadership, in my experience, is much more effective than any other style. Rich has us reading a book about building positive relationships, and focusing on the positive, and I feel that also is important to remember when deciding what kind of a leader we each want to be. I can’t wait to read your future articles comparing and contrasting the two styles.

Mitch Whittingtoni — 8:43AM on Apr 27, 2011

The premise of this article is one of the more solid principles out there. I think that we sometimes forget that it is indeed our people who interact with our customers 95 percent of the time. A cool website or new products might be enough to entice new customers, but it is their experience with the company once they are a customer that will keep them. I think we all have called into a call center or help line at one point or another and spoke with someone who we could tell did not want to be on the phone with us, and I would be willing to bet that we did not receive the best customer service from that individual. This really makes you wonder why that is. I think that if all leaders could use the servant leadership model, all businesses not just call centers, we would benefit greatly. Happy employees will usually lead to happy customers.

Bobby Robertson — 10:41AM on Apr 27, 2011

Good post Tom, the more I learn of servant leadership the more I deeply value the philosophy.

Often times leaders fall victim to growing jaded and flippant with their employees and end up serving the hierarchy or authoritarian model,however working to make our employees the most important focus of our influence would be much more effective and rewarding.

I am inspired to continually work toward a vision of developing a servant heart during my season of leadership and I look forward to reading your future posts on how having a Servant Heart is far more sustainable than the hierarchy or authoritarian leadership philosophies.

Chad Abbott — 11:03AM on Apr 27, 2011

This is awesome Tom! I know for a fact that being a servant leader is a lot more effective than the "do what I say and not what I do" types. Letting our guys know that we appreciate them makes their job experience a whole lot better which in turn affects the customers experience in a positive way. I look forward to your future posts.

Mitch Watkins — 1:13PM on Apr 27, 2011

Thank you Tom for this influential post.

I feel the best word the describe servant based leadership is love. Everything I do for my team I try to do out of love. Everything from pumping them up for a great production day to terminating an agent.

I have found that I do my best when I truly am more worried about the individual people on my teams success then my own.

Michael Cook — 3:38PM on Apr 28, 2011

This is a phenomenal blog and an even greater concept to be a servant leader. Excellence isn't a singular act but in fact it is a habit that we are continuously working at.

Far too often managers fall into a rut and allow that rut to take them where they've been before. Looking for new and innovative ways to serve and leading by a servant leader example should always be the main focus... Never ask what you aren't willing to do yourself.

Emily Estes — 5:16PM on Apr 28, 2011

What a great topic to discuss. I have found that I am most motivated when the people above me push me to be better out of compassion and care, not fear. The leaders that have meant the most to me have served and loved their teams. I believe that if other companies incorporated this into their corporate culture, they would have better teams and be more successful. Thanks for discussing this Tom.

Jody Patterson — 1:56PM on May 3, 2011

Fantastic article Tom! Last week I posted the following on my FB status: "Servant Leadership is like jalapeno jelly... when you just say it, it sounds terrible... but when you actually taste it... WOW, what a flavor!!!When you first learn to do for others, that is when things will truly start to GET DONE!"
I could not have even made that connection without having experienced it first hand. I have certain people to thank for that, and you are one of them. The feedback and guidance you have given me has been absolutely priceless. You are the essence of a servant leader! Thank you!!!

Kay Labrador — 6:59PM on Aug 5, 2011

Treating employees as if they are valued seems logical and moral but it does have the additional value of gaining you trust as a leader. Using Emotional Intelligence and understanding your memebers assists in increasing performance. I recommend you review "Motivational Chain of Events: Understanding Employee Motivation and Their Will to Perform"