HDI’s SPOCcast is your single point of contact podcast for service management and technical support insights. For Episode 27, I interviewed Jason Wischer about leadership. Jason is delivering Session 405, Leaders Who Listen: Unlock Your Team's Potential by Hearing Them, at SupportWorld Live - A Digital Experience. What follows is excerpted; for the full impact, I encourage you to listen to the entire podcast.
Roy: As we record this we're coming right up to SupportWorld Live - A Digital Experience, taking place in August, at an internet connection near you. And you have a session at SupportWorld Live, talking about leadership skill, and specifically the skill of listening. Can you tell us why you think that particular skill is so important?
Jason: Yes! Thank you, Roy, and I am excited for this first virtual and digital experience of SupportWorld Live coming up. I'm trying to figure out, you know, do you wear a suit coat? Do you wear Hawaiian shirt or, you know, do you wear your PJs like everyone else is advertised to do? So first I have to get that out of the way.
But yes listening is something that is near and dear to my heart because I've been on this journey I think for probably about five years now, trying to become a student and become a better listener in every way and it's certainly not easy. And I think the mission, of course, is to just recognize how are we listening.
One of the elements in my session is focused on the six levels of listening, and just improving your awareness over time, to identify, you know, which level you're at. For example, are you distracted, or are you busy and you just want the person that you're listening to go away, so you seek what they're asking you for and you give it to them and then they go away? And none of that is listening at all.
Roy: You’ve been really active with HDI for a long time. How do you think that HDI has helped you develop as a leader, if it has?
Jason: Yeah, I think HDI has played an absolutely critical role in my leadership development. In fact, I joined HDI before I started my role as a leader in my day job, if you will. And one of the most powerful lessons I learned as a result of that is how to lead volunteers. When you lead and you surround yourself in a community like HDI where you don't have any authority, you have volunteers who all do this for various reasons, but mostly because we love what we do, and we want to help other people. When we get to surround ourselves with people that we could learn from and we could serve in a leadership capacity with a community like HDI, you get to directly translate that back into your day job. And I've been very fortunate to grow in my leadership journey, and pretty much in parallel with what I've grown with my HDI journey serving as a volunteer.
I think that we all know, especially volunteer organizations, leadership is a key element of that, and that's why we're keen on things like succession planning and so forth. Leadership is really learned a lot when you work with volunteers, but obviously we learn from role models and other people, too. So, when you think about leadership, are there people who stand out to you as being really good leaders like name them him off the top, or quote them whatever?
Jason: Yeah, so part of my leadership journey is surrounding myself with people who have been there, and kind of building my sphere of influence. One of my very first managers, when I got promoted into a leadership role at work, encouraged me and actually gave me kind of a safety net, had my back for a while, and challenged me to develop my leadership style over time. So part of that was to look around and I think I used YouTube quite a bit to do some research on leadership topics, and one of the people that stood out very early to me was John Maxwell…he wrote a ton of books on leadership. And one of my favorite John Maxwell quotes, applies directly back to HDI in a volunteer capacity, is that leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It's about one person influencing another. So, John Maxwell is famous for making the correlation. He'll even put an equal sign in between leadership and influence.
And sometimes, when you're first starting out in a leadership role in your day job—you know you get this authority, and you don't really know what to do with it. And sometimes you see people, especially when they're starting out, struggling with how to influence their team, how to influence their peers and the rest of the organization across boundaries. But one of the best things about HDI [Local Chapters] is that there is no authority. Everyone's a volunteer and we're kind of doing this as sweat equity. We're doing this because we love to be part of the community. And that helped me along my journey to leverage authority as kind of the last tool in my toolbox, if you will. I lead with influence, and I developed and grew my influence over time. And I believe that helped me in my leadership journey in my day job.
When you're first starting out in a leadership role, you get this authority, and you don't really know what to do with it.
Roy: We’re in information technology, and in particular the support center, delivering services and supporting people. Are there enough leaders? Are they doing the right things, do you think? Obviously, we're part of a community that prides itself on breeding leaders, as we've been discussing. When you look around the web and read industry related blogs, are you seeing good leadership?
Jason: I think leadership is evolving in the industry today. And really, I do view the role of a leader to kind of acknowledge reality and see where we're at, but then see something bigger and better, and then help utilize the resources and bring that vision to reality. So, I think we have strong leadership all around us to model. The challenge I see is that we need to figure out how can we connect with each other, how can we describe our perspective and what we see and recognize strengths of the people around us and help people do their best, help people leverage their strengths and create momentum.
So, in terms of, you know, you've seen different strategies for leadership. You've seen top down, hierarchical organizations, and you've also seen some examples where there's kind of self-governing teams, everything from, “There is no leader,” to Scrum teams where they’re really small and everyone knows their role and how they contribute. But I think the key to the engagement between leadership and results and outcomes is all about collaboration, and what is our approach to working together. And I would like to encourage people to explore the kind of leadership that is aligned with that I like to call curious leadership. Leaders can ask why. Why are we not reaching the mark? Why are we not hitting the mark? Why did we succeed? Are we lucky?
And you see sometimes you see this concept played out in sports, right? When there's coaching changes, usually—another john Maxwell tenet—the Law of the Lid, applies where you need to change the leader at the top. So that's why you see a lot of sports coaches get fired, for example, when they need a leadership change. But I think if we look deeper than that and we apply curiosity throughout our organization, and create some conversations between leaders and between teams, and identifying what is our strength, what is our best and how can we help our people achieve to bring their best to the table every single day.
Roy: In light of what you just said about bringing their best every day, one of the qualities of leadership that's often talked about is creating or helping to create more leaders, and how do you do that in a support environment? In what ways can you encourage your team and bring them along so they start to see the value of leadership and help them learn?
Jason: I'm glad you mentioned that. A few years ago, I was involved in a study that I called the Leadership Revolution, and it was part of how can we equip leaders to produce leaders who produce leaders? One of the things that we learn about very early in studying leadership is to pick your successor. So, fortunately, I've learned a lot about succession planning through HDI. In fact, when we're volunteering in a particular role, that's the first thing we do. First time I became president of the local chapter board, I got to know the people on the board and the roles and how can I serve them, and what are our strengths that we could leverage in order to accomplish things like event planning and growing membership and growing our financial status.
So, first thing is getting to know your team. But then as you get to know your team, identify who will be the next president, who doesn't want to be the next president, etc. So, understanding that and then checking in with people regularly. We have these conversations every single quarter; just because we had a conversation once doesn't mean that that's how you still feel as time moves on. So, one of the, one of the core leadership tenets is to find your successor and then help develop people to bring their best like we said. So, it's about succession planning.
What do they need to develop in order to be ready for to become the next president, if that's what they want to do? And you'll be surprised that when you're in a mentoring relationship, there is no one-directional mentoring. Both people that benefit, both people learn and grow over time when you're in that type of relationship.
Roy: What would three leadership qualities, other than listening which we've already talked about and that you're going to speak about the event be—three qualities of a leader that you think are really important?
Jason: Yeah, so I think great storytelling is monumentally important. It's a combination of telling great stories and asking great questions. And I think when you're actually paying attention and listening to understand. Sometimes you have those natural questions that come up. And then it's the concept of telling great stories and inspiring people to connect with your idea. So, storytelling by way of asking great questions is one of them.
The other that I would say is always looking forward to how can we improve how can we grow. Is there room for trying something different? What are the foundational things that have worked over time that we need to do more of, and how do we measure how well we're doing those things? So, always keeping an eye towards the future you know if you're, for example, if you're steering a boat. Someone has to make sure that we're not going to run into anything. That's the role of the leader; kind of looking forward and at the same time you're looking in right in front of you.
Roy: We often hear the expression leaders are readers. So, let's talk about some books that you look to when you're looking for advice, or things that you've read, especially ones that you might have read recently. What's good? What should people be picking up?
Jason: Yeah this was exciting preparing for this podcast recording because I went to my bookshelf, and I picked like a dozen books.
The first category of books that I have is around people sharing their story. So, they go through something, they learned lessons that they want to share, and they wrote a book about it. One of them of course is our friend
, who wrote
Reaching Your Next Summit
. And we've talked about that book quite a bit in my circle.
I had the pleasure of meeting
Dr. Jim Cain
this past year. And I learned that he wrote an ungodly number of books—I think more than 20 books as well—similar to John Maxwell, and I'm holding his book in my hand—
100 Activities that Build Unity, Community and Connection
Part of the topic that I'm going to be speaking about at my session at SupportWorld Live is about how do we balance gaining context and content. I think both are equally important, and each of us have a unique skill set that usually lands more in the context scope or in the content scope. So, if we're a content person, it's challenging for us to gain context. And if we're a context person, it's challenging for us to focus on the content. I will go through some strategies on how can we actually discover what our tendencies are and how can we gain more of the total perspective by balancing our natural strengths with what we need to get the whole picture.
One more thing: there is a third book that I'm holding in my hand it's kind of ironic that I said it's almost impossible. This book has come in handy quite a bit. It's called,
It Always Seems Impossible Until It's Done
by Kathryn and Ross Petras.
And I almost forgot to mention the most recent book that I received as a birthday gift is called
Dad Jokes: the Good. the Bad. the Terrible
. So, I you know if you follow me on Facebook, you probably are victim of some of my bad 10 terrible dad jokes out there.
So, if someone out there in our massive audience wants to become a better leader or wants to start down the road of leadership, where do they start? How did you start, and how should they start, do you think?
Jason: So, the very beginning for me was really opportunity, being open to opportunities that come up. In fact, the first time that there was an opportunity, I told myself I wasn't ready, so I wasn't ready to help lead a team and be responsible for other people. And then I passed that opportunity.
Some time went on and another opportunity came up. And I, I said, Yes, I am ready this time. I'm going to throw my hat in the ring see what happens. And I ended up getting that role as a manager. It’s the first time I got a position, a leadership position early in my career. And thankfully the organization I worked for invested in training for leaders and managers. You know, I did extensive leadership training; I was sponsored by the organization. And one of the most important things about that, that leadership training was a mentoring engagement.
So, I found myself a mentor. In fact, there was someone that was a manager for more than 20 years and you know he's been through multiple seasons, different cycles and been there before. I'm just starting out, so I have a lot to learn. And that's where I actually discovered that he actually learned quite a bit from me, even from the perspective of someone who's brand new and he's been doing it for 20 years. So, I would say that the best advice I ever got, and the first thing that worked for me was to get a mentor. Talk to someone who's been there before, and you can kind of bounce ideas off of and both of you are likely going to learn something from the experience.
About Jason Wischer
Jason Wischer is an IT manager with 15 years of experience in the financial services, digital marketing, and retail services industries. He volunteers with his local HDI chapter in Milwaukee and has served in various roles leading the local chapter community, including Midwest Regional Director and past chair of the HDI Member Advisory Board. Jason is passionate about helping others achieve their career goals and about creating a positive culture in the workplace.
Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his role as Group Principal Analyst, he acts as HDI's in-house subject matter expert, bringing his years of experience to the community. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @RoyAtkinson.