As I read the rave reviews coming in from the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” which was released last week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his television series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” I am continually reminded of just how many children and families were touched by the decades of work, and nearly 1,000 episodes (912, including specials!), of Fred Rogers.
Fred Rogers was an incredible man, on screen and off, and was a leader that we can learn a lot from, no matter the arena of our organization. How many of you watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”? What do you remember most? What I take away from Mister Rogers is part of his opening song: “…let’s make the most of this beautiful day.”
In many, if not all, of my consulting, training programs and speaking engagements, I share my mission: to be the best I can be, and help others be the best they can be. It is my mission, and it is a mission that I think is the summation of the way Fred Rogers chose to live his life and to dedicate his work, as well.
This is a maxim that any leader in the contact center industry can choose to live by. It’s one I’ve based my definition of leadership on, and around which I’ve built my business. Using the enduring messages of Mister Rogers, you can increase the camaraderie and effectiveness of your organization!
Passion and Purpose
Mister Rogers led with great passion and purpose:
His passion to celebrate diversity and creativity.
His passion to make education and emotional support available to everyone.
His purpose to provide wholesome TV for children’s education.
His purpose to grow imaginations to instill creativity and innovation in adults.
His purpose to promote:
Imagination and Creativity
Appreciation of Diversity
As we traverse our careers within contact centers, we need to continually check in with our passions and purposes. People want to do something larger than life—when you are at your best, you can succeed in this endeavor. To be at your best:
Find the passion that motivates you and live it, every day.
Find the purpose of your career (what are you trying to accomplish?).
Feel comfortable in your own skin (be the real you).
Know your strengths and weaknesses.
Fill the gaps with colleagues that complement you.
See yourself as others see you.
Passion is to be the best you can be and having the creativity to make changes in the organization and world around you. Listen to the world giving you advice.
Taking the time to look at your passions and your purpose within your contact center can create a clear and direct path for you and the organization around you. A clear purpose creates excitement, develops creativity and innovation, and gives you and the organization a passion to succeed!
Mister Rogers was known for taking complex world events, concepts, etc., and making them meaningful and understandable to many types of audiences. Finding a basic and common language to transcend personality types and generations was his forte.
Listening is a key characteristic of good leaders—and empathetic listening is the highest level of listening. Some of you may not have heard the phrase empathetic listening before, so let’s define it: Empathetic listening is listening for the emotions behind the words. If someone is in a highly emotional state (positive or negative), do you believe you can get your message across? The answer is obviously, no.
In order to bring the person down from that high emotional state, you must acknowledge the emotion, and then they no longer can be in that emotional state. Some examples:
I can see this is really upsetting for you…
I hear the concern in your voice…
I recognize this is really frustrating with the timeline you are working with…
This is precisely what Mister Rogers did: If you listen to his conversation in videos, you will see how eloquently he used the words of the people with which he was speaking. Finding a basic and common language to transcend personality types and generations was another forte of his.
Mister Rogers was always calm, cool and collected. He was able to use emotional intelligence to help his audience feel very comfortable. Emotional intelligence is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own emotions and impulses and keep them under control. When you help others feel comfortable, they trust you and are open with you.
“Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” was critical in teaching self-confidence and self-management to its audience. Additionally, emotional intelligence is also being socially aware. Fred Rogers helped generations become socially aware: from helping children learn about divorce and what happens when you need surgery, to how to feel about the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
“When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
This well-known phrase, “Look for the Helpers,” was a mantra that his grandfather and mother instilled in him. In a time when media was becoming a “babysitter” for parents needing to take on more and more work to pay the bills, Mister Rogers taught us to aware of what was happening in the world and provided the tools for how to deal with it.
We see the need for social awareness as we start the trend of disaster preparedness— the opioid crisis, diabetes, world conflict…we are entering a new generation where the need for social awareness is greater than ever before.
Engaging and Empowering Your Contact Center
What are you doing to make every person in your contact center feel important? To feel like they are a part of the “neighborhood”? What are you doing to make it a beautiful day for everyone? Mister Rogers was able to give his audience (and their parents) the tools they needed to recognize effort, support it to grow and develop, and ways to reward the results.
Engagement and Empowerment is especially needed in the contact center industry—you are often the front line to difficult situations, it is important that you are viewed as the “helpers” Mister Rogers talks about.
People need to know they are valued and respected for who they are. When people know they are respected, they are more committed to doing the best they can. What are ways you can offer respect to others in your contact center? Even saying as Mister Rogers said: “I like you for just your being you.”
Everyone wants to know that what they do is recognized and appreciated. Giving people the recognition they deserve is something that you must do.
Mister Rogers was also one of the first to bring diversity and inclusion into mainstream media. For instance:
Officer Clemmons: Fred Rogers hired Francois Clemmons after he heard him singing in church. Clemens did not like the idea of being the policeman on “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” “I grew up in the ghetto. I did not have a positive opinion of police officers,” he said. Fred Rogers was able to help both Clemmons and his audience overthrow racial barriers.
Lady Elaine Fairchild: Lady Elaine was a unique and self-confident woman on screen—empowering young girls and women to lead, speak up and embrace differences.
Yo Yo Ma: Mister Rogers brought Yo Yo Ma onto his television show, offering perspective on race, occupation and artistic expression. He had him on the show many, many times after this—sometimes to play music, other times just to have a new experience as a neighbor.
Jeffrey Erlanger: Mister Rogers thought it important to show neighbors with disabilities and their absolute capability in the world. He listened with patience to hear how their disabilities affected them, then showed through action and cooperation their strengths and talents.
Without creativity, organizations stagnate then die. Being receptive and open to new ideas, no matter where they come from, is critical for an organization to remain competitive. Rewarding good work is not a hard concept nor a hard thing to put into practice.
How do we, as leaders in our contact centers, do this? Rewards and recognition can take many forms—from words, to growth opportunities or gift cards. To be effective, all methods of rewards and recognition must be timely, continual and customized to meet each individual.
Mister Rogers reminds us to return to our passions. His message endures because it is built not on numbers of profit and loss, or metrics of success and failure, but on simple, intrinsic qualities that every individual already possesses. We need to continually look at leaders like Mister Rogers to be reminded of what is really important for success.
The contact center industry needs to focus on this, as well. So often we are dealing with difficult situations, less than ideal timelines, and little to no budget. Revisiting these messages will ensure that we, as members of incredible teams, are able to be the best we can be—which will enable each and every individual in your organization to be the best they can be.
I’d like to take a page from Mister Roger’s playbook and ask you to do something.
Who in your life has been such a leader for you? Who has helped you love the good that grows within you, and makes you want to be the best person you can be? Let’s take 10 seconds to think of some of those people from our past and present who have helped us become who we are today—those who have wanted what was best for us in life; those who have encouraged us to become who we are this morning. Just 10 seconds of silence…
No matter where they are, either here, across the world, or in heaven—imagine how pleased those people must be to know that you thought of them right now. We all only have one life to live, and through our work, we have the choice of encouraging others, empowering others, being passionate about our work, and being the best we can be.
For more information on Dianne Durkin, her training programs, or her presentation on the five leadership qualities any contact center can learn from Mister Rogers, please contact her at email@example.com. /