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How to Develop a Leadership Pipeline in the Contact Center

Are leaders born or made? This question has been up for debate for quite some time. Regardless of whether leaders are born, or made, leadership development is critical. I have had the benefit of working with outstanding leaders who have guided and nurtured me throughout my career. Their influence suggests that whether a leader is born or made, mentoring is essential.

It has been said that the mark of a great leader, is one who creates more leaders. This only happens through mentoring, coaching, transparency, and trust. However, it starts with understanding that you don’t have all the answers. Real leadership is inclusive and does not place one’s self above the team. After all, what good is a leader, if they have no team to lead?

Leadership Pipeline

When you can elevate others, and let them stand in the spotlight without seeking accolades and credit, you have begun to understand the real power of leadership. Effective leaders realize they are, to some extent, a servant of those who follow them.  Leaders who serve lead successful teams! Servant leaders make the professional well-being of his/her staff their top priority.  Sadly, many wait for an official leadership title to adopt this mindset, and there are two reasons why this is not ideal:

1.    Leadership is not merely a position! Leaders are not defined by the organizational chart. Individual contributors and team members alike may possess and display the skills to become great leaders. Don’t overlook employees based on where they are in the hierarchy. Instead, identify where they can go, and how they can help you and the organization improve.

2.    Development should not occur once a leader assumes their role. To create success, you must create the conditions that are prime for success. Leadership requires on the job training for sure, but development in advance of a promotion helps maximize the potential for a favorable outcome.

One of my favorite quotes about effective leadership comes from Theodore Roosevelt. He said, “In any moment of decisions, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” For any new leader, getting it right is a daunting task. Without sufficient training, it is easy to make incorrect decisions, or even worse, do nothing at all.

During my time of military service, to progress in rank, you had to meet defined objectives before advancing. Therefore, you had all the hands-on experience you needed to make the next step in your career. You'd already succeeded in your new role before it was officially yours. This model created a robust pipeline of new leaders at the ready.

I have applied this same train of thought to my time in the contact center. When developing leadership pipelines, I focus on the following:

  • Set the tone: Leaders set the example for others to follow. It is imperative that you exhibit the behaviors you expect to see in your team. In doing so, you help create and maintain the culture and work environment you want to establish.
  • Create stakeholders: Any decision that impacts your team makes them stakeholders. As such, they need to be a part of the process.  Allow them to give constructive feedback and input. In doing so, you teach your employees how to communicate more effectively with one another, and how to gather all the relevant information they need to make good decisions. You also demonstrate that you value their input and expect them to take ownership of their role.
  • Utilize their other strengths: Allowing your employees to participate in projects outside the scope of their regular role is a great way to develop leaders. Not only will they put their talents and passions to use, but they will learn how to negotiate, collaborate, work on a deadline and contribute to the broader success of the organization.
  • Get out of the way: The best way to utilize your team is to give clear direction and guidance, and then let them do their job. Empower team members to make decisions and seek better alternatives to current processes and procedures. Encouraging them to find opportunities for improvement helps to develop and enhance critical thinking, decision making, and problem-solving skills.
  • Accountability: Being the leader does not mean you get to do what you want! Okay, maybe I should rephrase that. Just because you are the leader, doesn’t mean you should do whatever you want. Blame ultimately belongs to leadership, and praise should spread across to the team.

While the advice I've shared doesn't guarantee a successful leadership development program, it is an excellent place to start. I think of my contact center leadership pipeline program as an apprenticeship. Each member of the team is always learning and growing and the developing the skills they might need at the next level. Creating opportunities to develop staff for leadership is not only good for your employees and your business, but it is also your most important responsibility as a leader.  Harvey Firestone said it best; “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

Does your team have a leadership pipeline? Share your best practices in the comments.