Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Ode to the Front Desk
Over the years, I have learned never to assume that a person is what their professional title reflects. Incredible gifts are in every role. Simply taking the time for a thoughtful conversation can in-wrap amazing opportunities.
In particular, have you observed how some people walk by without acknowledging the individuals who are leading from the front desk. Those "fountains of knowledge" who make the guest experience outstanding...or diminish it, are powerful, influential and yet often overlooked. Although they may seem to be as “functional” necessities, many of our frontline employees are the strongest servant-leaders found in an organization.
I am referring to the executive assistants, receptionists and wonderful people who greet and welcome you and other guests/visitors as they enter the door of their organization.
When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a receptionist, executive assistant, secretary, and/or office manager where you work? Better yet, when did you last take that influential person out to lunch to learn more about them, their professional goals and aspirations? (outside of an annual performance appraisal/evaluation for those who supervise these individuals)
These servant-leaders often know more about the inner-workings of the office and/or business than their esteemed counterparts found in the corner office or behind the mahogany desks at your office. They keep “greasing the wheels” for a smooth office flow. Consider how their strong relationships with people in the roles of receptionist, executive assistant, and/or office manager at various other firms keep things moving more easily.
They may come in early and/or stay late to make sure the coffee is made, documents are ready and presentation materials/equipment are all set for the next day.
Jane T. Wadell of Regent University (2006) writes:
“Greenleaf (1991) explains that the servant-leader is servant first, which begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Following the desire to serve may be a conscious choice that brings one to aspire to lead. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types of leaders with the servant-first leader taking care to make sure other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”
These servant leaders focus on identifying and meeting the needs of others rather than trying to acquire more power, wealth, or any kind of “fame” for themselves. But, that doesn't mean they don't want to receive praise or feel appreciated. These “others-focused” people are working with their eyes as wide open as their hearts to help people every day, all day. Just because they are doing this doesn’t mean that they should be “dismissed.”
A greater understanding comes from the summary of Servant-Leadership Characteristics In Organizational Life,
“Servant-Leadership is about creating the right organizational environment to get the best out of people. It is about organizational effectiveness to unleash the true potential of employees, which is especially needed at the middle-management level of organizations. Today’s highly competitive global marketplace requires leaders to realign their organizational structures, systems, and management styles in order to empower their employees to survive and thrive in their changing organizations.”
How can we go deeper? Let's start with a more thoughtful approach as we enter our workplaces tomorrow. Let's schedule some time for lunch with our receptionist(s), executive assistant, and/or office manager.
Truly engage the person(s) in conversation about their professional and personal life goals. Find out what their aspirations are and discuss how you can best provide them with opportunities for future growth within the company. Make yourself available.
Set up monthly appointments with them for mentorship or offer and allow opportunities for them to meet with a mentor of their own choosing. Introduce them to those whom you feel would be wonderful assets to them in their desires for growth. Allow the person(s) into your network.
During the time with them, help them explore and/or develop a professional growth plan. If more training/education is needed, be an advocate. If your role is as their supervisor, and it's possible, offer financial support from your company budget. If that isn’t possible, again, open up your network to help support their needs.
This show of concern will likely be a surprise for your servant leader, But what a welcomed and refreshing surprise it will be in the end! Loyalty and a deepened trust will be gained in more substantive form by those who reach out, hold confidences and are consistent.