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Leadership and "Amelia Bedelia"
By Kristin Widun

What can we learn about leadership from “Amelia Bedelia”?

When recently reading the children’s book, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish to my daughter, it occurred to me that there are some important points we can learn about leadership from this story.  The premise of the story is simple; Amelia Bedelia starts working as a housekeeper for the Rogers family.  They left her a list of tasks to perform, informing her that she must do just what the list says.  The book becomes a hilarious comedy of errors, when Amelia Bedelia interprets the list in a different way than originally intended by the Rogers’.  She “dusts” the furniture with dusting powder; she “puts out” the lights in the room by unscrewing the light bulbs and hanging them outside on the clothes line; she “trims the fat” on a steak with lace and ribbons; and she “draws” the drapes on a piece of paper.  Needless to say, the Rogers’ are not very satisfied with the job she has done, and become quite angry. 

As leaders, how many times have we done the same thing to our employees?  Do we become upset when our employees interpret our vision in a different manner than what we intended?  Have we attributed this to a lack of educational experience by our employees, or a level of apathy throughout the organization?  How effective is our communication with our employees?  The vision you possess may sound simple to you, but it may have various meanings to your staff.  Many leaders practice the art of “playing telephone.”  They communicate their thoughts to senior leadership, who then passes it along to middle management, and so on through all levels within the organization.  Passing the buck on the communication super-highway is a certain way to set you up for challenges and frustration.  It is imperative that communication consistently flows within all levels of an organization, not the top-down method employed by many organizations.

 While leadership has the responsibility to ensure employees understand the vision of the organization, they also need to set the tone for communication – allowing employees to question what they don’t understand.  In the story, Amelia Bedelia enthusiastically performed her tasks without asking questions, even though she thought some of the tasks were just plain silly.  Do we assume our employees know what we are talking about?  They may not always agree with what we ask of them, but do they understand the purpose of the tasks we assign?  In my experience, I have had these similar challenges with staff performing tasks incorrectly.  They were confused on what I assigned, but did not choose to ask questions.  As a leader, I automatically assumed my staff completely understood what to do, as it seemed simplistic to me.  My mistake was not following up to ensure my message was delivered and understood accurately.  This created universal frustration – I was frustrated by the mistakes being made, and my employees were frustrated by what they viewed as my indecisiveness on how I wanted something done.

In the end, Amelia Bedelia redeems herself by surprising the Rogers’ with a pie she baked for them that day.  Unfortunately, in our society today, mistakes are not as easily fixed with a piece of lemon meringue pie.  As leaders, it is up to us to think about the message we are sending and how it may be interpreted by others.  We cannot expect our employees to be mind readers if we do not communicate effectively.

What is Your Excuse?
By Kristin Widun

I was reading an article the other day about a car rental company who rented a car with expired tags.  Inevitably, the car was pulled over and the guests were given a ticket.  They spoke with the rental agency who assured them the ticket would be taken care of and they did not need to be concerned.

You can probably see where I am going with this – the guests were continuously charged for the ticket, their calls to the car rental company to complain were getting them nowhere.  When they finally contacted one of those consumer advocate groups to help them out, the final explanation given was that a “computer glitch” created the problem, and the error was fixed in favor of the guests. 

Think about the chain of events created by excuses and a lack of follow through?  The rental company neglected to check their registration on the vehicle, which resulted in stress for the guest.  The guest returns the car, believing the problem is behind them.  At this point, the organization has a 50/50 chance that the guest will rent another car in the future.  Then the guests are harassed to pay a ticket that was not their fault in the first place.  The worst part of this situation is the guests actively tried to correct the situation to no avail from the car rental company.  The end result is bad publicity for the rental agency (as most of these consumer advocate groups are all over the internet and television), and a customer who will most likely not rent another car from them as well as tell all of their friends to follow suit.  

This scenario is only too common today, when we don’t know how to figure out a problem, we blame the computer.  Let’s get real, how many times have we used the computer as an easy way out when we simply messed up – forgotten to make a reservation, or follow up on a customer complaint?  I can honestly say I have used that excuse in the past, it was safe, you were not throwing your coworkers “under the bus” by blaming another person, and it sounded like a feasible explanation to the customer.  Most people can easily detect when they are being lied to, and your customers should be no different.  Unfortunately, you end up looking stupid when a customer calls you out on this, and you may be forced to actually tell the truth! 

Excuses and opinions, everyone’s got one, right?  But, does that make it okay?  Why have we become a society where making excuses is almost expected.  Politicians do it all of the time; they cannot accomplish anything in office because the opposing party will not play nice in the sandbox.  Children constantly make excuses for not doing their homework, not cleaning their rooms, or fighting with their siblings.  People love to make excuses for their poor behavior, living in excess, or neglecting others.

It would be refreshing, if not altogether frightening, to a customer if people actually took responsibility for problems instead of making excuses and blaming others.  How do you think a customer feels if someone spends more time making excuses for their issue instead of fixing it?  I know it makes me feel as if an organization does not value me and my business if they make excuses.  By taking responsibility and practicing the fine art of service recovery, an organization gains my respect. I may not be happy at that moment, but I can respect someone that is willing to accept responsibility and move forward.

Problems occur as we do not live in a perfect society, and facing that angry guest is not a pleasant thing to do.  How we conduct ourselves in these situations may create a customer who is willing to give you another chance, or one who will never step foot in your organization again.  In the end, would you rather create an excuse or create a satisfied customer?  What is your excuse?




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