Servant Leadership & Workplace Culture
Jeff Visser, chief retail office at Consumers Credit Union, discusses the meaning and value of servant leadership. From asking the right questions to avoiding gossip in the workplace, this episode will help guide you a better workplace environment! Listen today on “Money, I’m Home!”
00:07 Lynne: Money, I’m home! From Finance to Fitness. Hi! Welcome in, this is Consumers Credit Union’s podcast and we sure are glad you’re with us. Tell you what, we got a great topic today. You ever sit at work and you think to yourself, “Man, that’s a great place to work. I like waking up and going to work every day.” And the people around you make you feel that way? Well, at Consumers we call this servant leadership, and today I am very honored to introduce you to Jeff Visser, he’s our Chief Retail Officer. And I have the honor of working alongside you every single day, Jeff, and I learn something new every day. So I really wanted to just open up the conversation and talk a little bit about your background, how you got here, and then I’m going to tell some stories about what I’ve learned from you.
00:55 Jeff Visser: Well, that sounds great. Let’s do that, Lynne.
00:58 Lynne: So tell us a little bit about yourself. How’d you get to where you are today?
01:01 JV: Sure. Well, let’s see. We won’t spend too long here, but I went to Western Michigan University and while I was there, I was working in the healthcare field.
01:09 Lynne: Go Broncos.
01:10 JV: Go Broncos. And I met my wife at work and we fell in love and we started dating and then we decided to get engaged, and the company I was working for said, “Hey, you guys can’t work in the same place and be engaged.” And so it was either move to a different unit, which I wasn’t too interested in or find a new place to work. So I started looking around and the place where I took my paycheck every other week was filled with the nicest bunch of people I’d ever met in my life. So I said, “Well, hey let’s give this a try.” And after a couple of interviews, okay four, I got hired into Consumers Credit Union.
01:47 Lynne: We do have a long interview process.
01:48 JV: Well, actually, it was four separate interviews. Anyway, that’s a whole another story. I kept trying, let’s put it that way.
01:55 Lynne: And you got in.
01:55 JV: I got in, yep.
01:56 Lynne: Now, you really have worked almost in every department, pretty much.
02:03 JV: I’ve held a lot of hats here, yep. I’ve been a teller, an MSR, I’ve worked in our call center, I’ve managed our call center. I’ve worked in our retail offices again and yeah, a bunch of different hats.
02:14 Lynne: One of the things that… The focus of our podcast today is on servant leadership. And I was so excited because you were one of the very first people that I worked with here at Consumers. And the one thing that you taught me, and to this day I try to do it, I’m not as good as you are, is you will call me or you’ll be in a meeting with somebody and the very first thing you will say is, “Do you have time to talk to me right now?” Not interrupt and, “Let’s get going.” It’s, “Do you have time?” Why do you do that?
02:57 JV: I think that probably goes back to my early days working in the call center, I worked there for a lot of years. And if we would reach out to a member, I made the mistake a lot of times of just rushing into what my agenda was. And what I found was, “Hey, guess what? I am not the most important thing on this person’s radar today. And maybe I’d better make sure now is a good time for us to talk.” And sometimes I would get some surprising answers like, “No, we just had a death in the family,” or, “I just was in a car accident,” or, “No, I feel terrible right now,” or, “I’m at work trying to do my job.” And so what I think that taught me was that you gotta make sure it’s the right time, or you’ll, number one, disrespect the person that you’re intending to connect with and number two, you’re never gonna get what you want if that individual cannot give you the time and attention that’s needed.
03:49 Lynne: How important is that, not only in work, but in every day moments?
03:54 JV: Yeah, yeah. At work, we can train ourselves, we can develop these patterns and we have all these accountability partners around us about how we wanna look to others. But in life, boy, with kids or with spouses or friends, yeah, that’s where it gets a little tougher but it’s so, so important to make sure that is now the right time for that interaction. I have four children so I think about, “Is it time to correct or is it time to give them a shoulder to cry on or is it time to come back to that later?” There might be a lot going on.
04:26 Lynne: Same thing with… I watch customer service and in our work it’s so important, the member relationships that we build. But your every day life, you go to buy an airline ticket, you need to call the cell phone company, you truly have created a culture that builds relationships and yet when all of a sudden you find that that’s not happening in your day-to-day life, where is it that where you can turn it inward and try to get better versus getting angry? It seems like the world’s angry with customer service.
05:11 JV: Yeah, it’s funny because you hear a lot of horror stories about customer service. And I think if I was gonna rephrase your question, I’d say, “How do you make sure you’re keeping the main thing the main thing, Lynne, when it comes to customer service?” Is that your question?
05:24 Lynne: Yeah, I like that.
05:32 JV: If you’ve done a great job in the past and our credit union, I think, has done a great job of member service, it really means nothing. It means nothing because today is the only day in that member’s life. And if we’re serving 72 different members that day, boy, how can we keep that one member in front of us the main focus? How can we engage with them directly? Well, it’s usually by establishing a bit of rapport with them. It’s sometimes the little things, it’s remembering their name, it’s looking them in the eye, it’s asking them how their day was. Maybe pointing out something in the interaction that personalizes it and really making sure that person feels honored for who they are. I think that it is very normal in customer service to just say, “Next.” Just, “Next.” What kind of a greeting is that? We deserve better from those that provide service to us and I think it’s keeping that person in front of you as an individual. And that’s where our leaders come in, they help remind us of that. That’s where our teammates come in, they make it fun, but they really remind us that each and every person that we serve is an individual worthy of the very best we can offer them, no matter how many times a day we’ve served that individual.
06:45 Lynne: You’re talking about servant leadership. Some people would say, “You know what? Those are just words.” What does it mean?
06:54 JV: I know what it means to me.
06:55 Lynne: What does it mean to you, Jeff?
06:57 JV: So I think that when I think about servant leadership I focus on the first word, and I think anybody can be a servant. Anybody can look at the leader they’re working with or the team they’re working with and say, “What is this team or this person trying to accomplish? And what can I do to contribute to it?” Whether that’s the boss, whether that’s the people that report to them, whether that’s their peer, whether that’s somebody else in another area of the organization and say, “What can I do to make it just 1% easier? What can I move it one yard down the field?” I think you’ve got an obligation to help folks carry the load.
07:38 Lynne: When you lighten the load, how have you found that it changes the fabric of perhaps a relationship or the fabric of maybe something that could escalate into negativity and instead, becomes quite pleasant?
07:58 JV: Well, I think of that when I think of folks that are struggling. Maybe they’ve got a situation with one of their employees perhaps, I think about office managers a lot and different managers I work with. Maybe they’ve got somebody that’s struggling on their team and they don’t know how to engage with it or what they’ve tried isn’t working. Well, if we can work that out together, if we can get what they’re trying out in the open, if we can get what they wanna accomplish out in the open, and get it focused back on helping that individual and repairing relational drifts maybe that have happened at times, we get constructive and we stop being defensive. And so I think that it’s about finding ways for people to connect and get honest and get back onto the road many times of saying, “What is my focus here? My focus is to help them get better.” I always try to see everybody as a 10, but my job is to help them get to a 20. So if that’s my job, then criticism has no place in that unless it’s lovingly given. And I think that’s the place of value for our coaches and for our leaders is, if I can lovingly but directly give criticism that will help them advance.
09:16 Lynne: It really goes back to what you first talked about, I think, and that is that, “What is that individual in front of you feeling at that moment?” You don’t know, right? So, let’s say you’re at work or maybe you’re driving down the road right now and you’re thinking about something that’s happening in your work life or your home life and you just can’t get past it and you get angry, and you get defensive and yet what about the other individuals? Where can you stop for a moment and ask, “What are they feeling?” How important is that?
09:56 JV: Well, it’s everything, yeah. I think we’ve all had those moments in our life where, boy, the life seems to be driving the work a little bit, where you’re just not 100% of who you wanna be. And I think at that point we need each other a little bit to be understanding and to take those little things to recognize each other and to give each other a little bit of grace in that. I think, first of all if now is not the right time and somebody indicates that, fine. The other thing we do a lot, I think as a society is we say, “Well, how are you Lynne?” You say…
10:29 Lynne: I’m fine.
10:30 JV: Yeah, you’re fine, right? But I know you and I’ve known you for what? Eight years? And I know when you’re fine is not fine, right?
10:37 Lynne: Yeah.
10:38 JV: So if I care about your success, what am I gonna do?
10:41 Lynne: You’d, “Come on. What’s up?”
10:44 JV: Give me the real deal, right? Because if you’re saying fine and I can read in your eyes that you’re not fine, you probably need to unload it a little bit.
10:52 Lynne: Yeah, good point. Alright, one thing that I think is really important that you have taught me is that when you are walking into an office and all of a sudden somebody starts to dump on you, “I am… This just happened to me and I am so tired of this individual. And they keep doing this,” and they’re just dumping on you. And you said to me one day, “That’s not for your shoulders.” Why is that?
11:27 JV: Well, I think it’s human nature, we get frustrated and sometimes maybe rightly so and I think we have a tendency to try to keep things in as much as possible, but at some point, I might get mad with Lynne. And if I’m telling…
11:44 Lynne: That’s never gonna happen, Jeff. [laughter]
11:45 JV: Yeah, I’m sure that’s never happened in our history, Lynne. No, I think we’ve got 10 rounds with the best of them sometimes. And you know what, that’s okay. If you and I wanna express how we feel about a difference of opinion and we wanna do so directly or even duke it out a little bit, that’s respectful. That is me saying, “Lynne, I disagree,” and you saying, “Jeff, you disagree, and now let’s talk about why and how can we get to a place where we can work this out.” What is not respectful is for me to turn to Aaron and say, “I think Lynne is all wet on this and she just has no idea what she’s doing,” because it does two things. Number one, I’m talking behind Lynne’s back and I just gave a burden to Aaron. I just handed him this burden to say, “Oh, great. Now Jeff’s complaining about Lynne. That’s gonna be a mess if it gets back to Lynne and then now she’s gonna hear that maybe I’m in on it.” And it creates this burden. So, Aaron has a job to do if I do that, and it’s a tough job. And he didn’t ask for the job, but he got it anyway. He got the job of looking at me and saying, “Jeff, what did Lynne say when you asked her about that?” And then there’s typically a very quiet moment there where I reflect on the fact that I am not doing right. I am not taking to Lynne what I should be taking to Lynne. And in that moment, Aaron killed gossip.
13:13 Lynne: Huge.
13:14 JV: He killed gossip, it’s over because now I only have one choice. I have to return to the person that I have beef with and I gotta work it out and that’s where we grow. That’s where we get even better.
13:25 Lynne: Truly that is what culture is all about. It’s being okay to look someone in the eye and say, “Have you spoken directly about the issues that you’re having?” And, “I can be here for you, but I can’t be here for you to put more stuff on my shoulders. I just can’t do it. You need to carry that burden back and fix it.” Yeah, I’ll tell you what, this is a great conversation. We’ll continue it in further episodes because it truly is what makes life and work so good. Jeff, thank you so much.
14:03 JV: Thank you, Lynne.
14:04 Lynne: Money, I’m home, with Consumers Credit Union.