This recent ABC News video-cast about the football phenom known as Tim Tebow, QB for the Denver Broncos, got me thinking about the role of altruism as a component of leadership and management in the arena of customer service.
Tebow’s Christian pronouncements place him square down the middle of the nation’s divide on the role of religion in public life. Forget about the division of Church and State. For millions of Americans the division of Church and Football is a far more palpable edict. Fans tend to hate him or love him. Either way, the one thing that makes him stand apart from any politician of which the same could be said, is that Tebow gets results.
Dr. Dacher Keltner from The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at UC Berkeley says new research shows that highly cooperative, other-oriented, empathetic, compassionate individuals in leadership positions have better performing teams and healthier organizations. In the case of Tebow, regardless of his beliefs or avowals, his teammates concur that his actions prove him to be highly altruistic.
In customer service professions it is just such authentic and effective concern and intercession on behalf of the client that any manager hopes to instill in his staff as their top priority. Dr. Keltner seems to suggest that leadership by example, by treating and honoring your service staff in the way that you hope to find them treating your customers is not just new-agey, liberal psycho-babble but a scientifically verifiable, effective tool of business.
In all my years of working in service I’ve heard endless, wide-eyed chatter from managers and owners–particularly when a business is starting up–about adopting such altruistic attitudes as policy. In many cases, the honeymoon period of mutual good-feelings has actually lasted for an extended period. Then, in most cases, disappointing behavior from both employees and management leads to a downhill spiral of growing mistrust and eventually an atmosphere of everyone for themselves.
In the few instances I’ve witnessed where mutual respect and trust have flourished for the long term, it wasn’t due to optimistic verbiage written into an employee manual or team-building exercises performed during staff training. In each case, it was an individual manager or owner who with consistent thoughtfulness, day after day, performed humbly and selflessly for the benefit of a business made of people and not spreadsheets. Nearly every altruistic action of these role models was eventually mirrored by the employees. By actively demonstrating that a business is primarily about people serving other people, these leaders instilled that realization in the staff. Perhaps ironically, the few times I saw profit and growth take a backseat to providing service, they always followed as an inevitable consequence.
So if, as Dr. Keltner suggests, altruistic behavior is a key to success; why is it so rarely modeled in the business world? Does it have to do with our cultural values? Do individuals overestimate their own altruistic behavior due to ego? Perhaps we’re not evolved enough yet to act in our own best interests. Is it too difficult for people to untangle the benefits of altruism from the tenets of organized religions they have rejected? Tim Tebow’s story would certainly suggest it.
Though I suspect there is truth behind all these questions, I’m dying to know what you think. Please send me your feedback and customer service reviews. If the comment box doesn’t show up directly below here, then please click on the tiny grayed-out link just below the title of the post on the right side of the page next to the chat bubbles (# Responses) to leave your message. Also, please Subscribe by clicking on the button in the sidebar to the right. It’s free and also the easiest way to keep up with the latest conversations here.