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What is the Right Leadership Style for a Call Center to Achieve High Csat and Agent Engagement

How to Determine Your Leadership Style (Questionnaire)

| 12 min read

What is Your Primary Leadership Style?

Many leaders believe what leadership style that works for one call center, line of business, team, or situation may not work for another. In other words, the right leadership style for a call center or team depends on the needs and situation of the business. Furthermore, many suggest the right leadership style also depends on the goals of the call center and the strengths of its employees, processes, policies, and technologies. 

Good leadership is not only about senior managers or the vice president of a call center. Effective leaders can be found at all levels (e.g., supervisors to SVP) and use different leadership styles. While there are many leadership styles used in call centers, some of the most common styles that leaders use are servant, transformational, participative, transactional, autocratic, and laissez-faire leadership styles. Furthermore, it is common for a manager to have a dominant leadership style that they apply in most situations.

A widely recognized approach to leadership is to use a situational leadership style. This leadership approach is based on the demands of a particular situation. For example, there are situations when a leader needs to help transform the call center to deliver a great customer experience (CX) by making significant changes. Therefore, they might use a transformational leadership style to achieve that goal.

In other situations, a leader must focus on day-to-day operational tasks (e.g., improving average handle time or call resolution). As a result, they might use a transactional leadership style to achieve that objective. The bottom line is that situational leadership requires a leader to adapt their dominant style to a different style or use elements of a different style and apply it to a specific situation. Although, it is common for leaders to have a dominant leadership style that they apply in most situations.

To help determine the dominant leadership style you use at your call center, read the information below describing the most common call center leadership styles and complete the online leadership style questionnaire. In addition, it might be helpful to ask others what they think your dominant leadership is; it could be different than what you consider it to be.

  1. Servant Leader
  2. Participative Leader
  3. Transformational Leader
  4. Transactional Leader
  5. Autocratic Leader
  6. Laissez-Faire Leader

These leadership styles are based on several well-known academic leadership researchers, such as Bass, B. M., Avolio, B. J., Riggio, E. R., Burns, M. J., Conger, J. A., Greenleaf, R. K., Blanchard, K., Northouse, P. G., and Rok, B.

What's your leadership style?

At SQM, we have analyzed the dominant leadership styles used based on benchmarking First Call Resolution (FCR), Customer Satisfaction (Csat), and agent engagement performance with over 500 leading North American call centers. The most interesting finding is that the dominant leadership styles in call centers with the highest CX delivery and agent engagement are Servant, participative and transformational. However, it should be mentioned that any leadership style can be effective, although in most cases, only in the short term (e.g., transactional, autocratic, and laissez-Faire styles). Obviously, no one leadership style is appropriate for all situations. However, the best leaders understand their employees and know which leadership style or element of a style is right for different agent personalities and situations.

infographic for leadership styles and their impact on call center CX and employee engagement

1. Servant Leader

Likely to be Effective

The servant leadership style is about serving agents who report to them. Put differently, servant leadership relies on the concept that leaders exist to serve agents instead of the other way around. As a result, servant leaders show empathy, are followers, value agents' input, and encourage collective decision-making.

Also, a servant leader focuses on meeting agent needs and their development. Furthermore, unlike traditional hierarchical structures, servant leaders use a power-sharing business model that encourages collaboration and trust among the employees on the team. Servant leadership style is likely to be effective for either a 1st or 2nd quartile Csat performing call centers. However, for this style to be effective, it requires a long-term commitment and low agent and management turnover.

Servant leadership style infographic

Increasingly, call centers and leaders are finding success with a servant and transformational leadership styles. Also, many individuals think these two styles are the same. These styles have similarities; they both emphasize emotional intelligence, communication, participation, development, and inclusion. Conversely, the major difference between these two styles is that servant leadership emphasizes agent needs more in its aims to achieve the call center's Csat goals. On the other hand, transformational leaders emphasize the transformation change and inspire and develop agents to achieve the transformational Csat goals.

The servant leadership style may not be the right style where situations require quick decisions, tight guidelines, or specific skills are needed for decision making. Even though this style can create high CX and engagement, it still requires that call center managers exhibit high leadership qualities (e.g., stewardship, ability to listen, persuasion, agent development, collaboration, and group decision making) and a stable workforce. In addition, in inverting the hierarchy pyramid, this style has limited formal control over agents or employees, so leaders that use this style must have confidence in themselves and the agent's abilities.

You Might Be a Servant Leader If...

  • It is your top priority to develop agents so they can provide great customer service
  • You're known for asking agents what you can do to help them provide high Csat
  • You place more emphasis on agent needs than yours

2. Participative Leader

Likely to Be Effective

The participative leadership style (sometimes called democratic leadership) is when a leader asks for input from their agents and considers feedback from their team members before making a decision. The participative leadership style is one of the most prevalent styles used by our call center client managers. The participative leadership style works best when agents are skilled, engaged, and above-average Csat performers. The participative style is known to help increase agent engagement, job satisfaction, and Csat and is likely to be effective for any level of call center Csat performance.

Participative leadership style infographic

This leader has strong communication skills and allows agents to participate in setting goals and making business decisions that affect them. Moreover, a participative leader empowers agents to improve performance and achieve Csat goals but provides agents with constructive feedback and guidance to keep them on task to achieve goals. In addition, participative leaders provide frequent and supportive communication and work collaboratively with agents. Therefore, participative leadership is the right style for many managers and agents.

However, this leadership style can be problematic if agents are new or are poor performers for achieving high FCR or Csat. This style can also be challenging if a leader needs to make a decision quickly and agents or employees have limited or little experience. In addition, poor decisions can be made if agents are new or have limited skills.

You Might Be a Participant Leader If...

  • You think the best agent coaching sessions were when it was a collaborative approach for determining how they could improve their Csat
  • You think the best team meetings are when all agents have an equal opportunity to provide input
  • You can't remember the last time for an important decision that you did not seek input from agents

3. Transformational Leader

Sometimes Effective

The transformational leadership style leader is recognized as a change agent with effective strategic and critical thinking ability. In addition, they have strong communication skills and can create and articulate a clear call center vision, mission, and CX goals. A transformational leader is a manager who motivates and inspires (transforms) agents to achieve extraordinary Csat outcomes and ensures they have the necessary resources to be successful. Furthermore, managers who exhibit transformational leadership often have solid values and ideals. Also, this leadership style motivates agents to act in ways that support the greater good rather than the agent's self-interest.

Transformational leadership style infographic

This style is known to help take a 3rd or 4th quartile performing call center for Csat to a 1st quartile level. Unfortunately, most call center transformation efforts do not meet expectations or fail. Therefore, the transformational style is only sometimes effective for consistently improving Csat due to the difficulty of transforming a low CX performing call center. Nevertheless, a transformational leadership style can be the right style for a call center if it needs to transform to improve CX or deliver great CX significantly.

In many cases, a successful transformational leader is viewed as a charismatic leader agents want to follow. Further, a successful transformational leader recognizes the importance of an effective business plan and execution for delivering great CX and higher agent engagement. If there is a poor plan or execution, their leadership style will disappoint and demotivate employees, resulting in lower Csat and employee satisfaction (Esat). It is essential to emphasize that transformational leadership might not be the right leadership style if the call center does not need to transform to improve Csat or if there is no mandate to change. However, effective transformational leadership can be the right style to achieve great CX and engage agents, especially if a good plan is executed effectively.

You Might Be a Transformational Leader If...

  • You are a strategic or big picture thinker who can come up with a new idea and have the ability to communicate it effectively
  • You encourage agents to be comfortable with being uncomfortable with change to make things better or improve Csat
  • You love to inspire and recognize agents who have significantly helped in achieving transformational goals

4. Transactional Leader

Sometimes Effective

The transactional leadership style is where a leader relies on rewards and punishments to achieve optimal agent performance. These leaders focus on results, efficiency, and performance rather than agent relationships. They also tend to be directive and action orientated. The leader establishes goals, and agents know how they will be rewarded for achievement. The transactional leadership style is often seen in average or lower-performing call centers for CX delivery and agent engagement. However, the transactional leadership style is sometimes effective and the right style for 3rd or 4th quartile Csat performing call centers that want to improve CX delivery quickly.

Transactional leadership style infographic

Furthermore, transactional leadership can be seen as more similar to autocratic or command-control style than transformational leadership. However, some people think the transactional leadership model is the right leadership style for a call center because of the need for standardized operating procedures to deliver a consistent CX for resolving inquiries or problems on the first call. Put differently, this style is more concerned with agents efficiently adhering to policies, procedures, and call handling standards rather than transforming the call center.

This leadership style works well if rewards are meaningful and negative consequences for poor performers carry grit, not a hollow threat. Transactional leaders manage day-to-day operations by using agent discipline and rewards. The cons with a transactional leader approach are that it is not linked to long-term performance. However, extrinsic rewards can positively impact an agent's Csat performance, but intrinsic recognition starts to matter more at some point. It is the belief of some that the sole focus on compliance and performance can create agent disengagement.

You Might Be a Transactional Leader If...

  • You frequently use the threat of mandating overtime if agents do not adhere to the schedule
  • You motivate agents with money to improve their productivity or customer service.
  • You punish agents with job loss or written notice of performance issues when productivity is low

5. Autocratic Leader

Mostly Ineffective

The autocratic leadership style (also known as authoritarian leaders) directs and controls most activities without much input from agents who report to them. The most effective autocratic leaders lead with a clear sense of purpose and direction. This style can be the right leadership style when there are time constraints to complete tasks or if agents require a great deal of supervision due to low Csat performance after being coached or trained. The autocratic leader can quickly take charge and dictate policies and procedures to agents.

Autocratic leadership style infographic

This style decides what goals are to be achieved and deadlines. In the short term, the autocratic leader can give a call center a drive they do not have otherwise. However, this style supervises agents closely to ensure agents are productive. Also, they believe that most agents need to be micro-managed to be productive. This style also demands obedience and strict compliance with policies and procedures.

This style is known to improve low 3rd and 4th quartile Csat performers, although Csat improvement can be short-lived or seldom reaches 1st or 2nd quartile Csat levels in most cases. Furthermore, in the long term, the autocratic leadership style is mostly ineffective for driving Csat improvement and sustaining high Csat performance. This style is known to increase agent turnover rate and decrease agent engagement. A strict application of the autocratic leadership style will lead to agent dissatisfaction working in the call center and possibly a rebellion. Also, this style will create a culture of compliance and reduce or eliminate collaboration and agent commitment to improving Csat.

You Might Be an Autocratic Leader If...

  • You think agent input only slows things down, and it is more effective if you make decisions by yourself
  • You believe because there is so much agent turnover, you need to be directive to agents on how you want them to resolve calls
  • You dislike it when agents question your knowledge or decisions, especially new agents

6. Laissez-Faire Leader

Mostly Ineffective

The laissez-faire leadership style represents the absence of leadership. As the french phrase implies, a laissez-faire leader takes a hands-off approach to managing agents. For example, this leadership style is often unaware of what the agents who report to them on what they are doing. Furthermore, this leadership style believes its agents are trained and self-motivated to provide high Csat. Moreover, teamwork and agent empowerment is essential. Finally, this style gives agents the authority to make decisions. However, a laissez-faire leadership style leader must know when performance issues arise and when to step in.

Laissez-Faire leadership style infographic

This style is the opposite of the autocratic leader, sometimes too much. This leadership style can lead to low agent productivity and Csat. This style is unsuitable for environments requiring direction, quick feedback, and praise or when a team needs guidance. Also, a high manager-to-agent ratio (20+) can manifest as a laissez-faire style because managers do not have enough time to coach and encourage agents to improve Csat. Therefore the high manager-to-agent ratio results in agents being left on their own or having limited resources to support them.

This leadership style trust all agents will handle calls effectively and efficiently. While this leadership style can be popular or preferred by many agents because of the trust and hands-off approach, a laissez-faire leader needs an experienced, high Csat, and self-motivated team of agents to be successful. However, given the increasing agent turnover and call complexity, the laissez-faire leadership style is mostly ineffective at delivering long-term Csat and employee engagement. Where this style has worked in some situations, the call center is performing at the 1st or 2nd quartile Csat level has seasoned agents, and only on a short-term basis.

You Might Be a Laisse-Faire Leader If...

  • You believe you take a hands-off approach in the way you manage agents day to day activities.
  • You only step in when there are performance issues
  • You do very little talking in the agent team meeting. Instead, the agents provide you with updates on their performance

What is a Good Customer Satisfaction Rate?

SQM's Csat research shows the Call Center Industry average Csat benchmark rate is 78% (top box response). This means that 78% of customers are very satisfied with the call center's customer service. The call center industry standard for a good Csat rate is 75% to 84%. The World-class Csat rate is 85% or higher, and only 5% of call centers can achieve the World-class Csat Rate. Call center Csat top box response quartile rule of thumb is Q1 = 80% or greater, Q2 = 75 to 80%, Q3 = 70 to 74% and Q4 = 69% or lower.

What's your leadership style?


Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations. New York. NY: Free Press.

Bass, B. M. (1997). Does the transactional–transformational leadership paradigm transcend organizational and national boundaries? American Psychologist, 52(2), 130-139.

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Ken Blanchard Companies. (2019). Because one size does not fit all. Retrieved from https://www.kenblanchard.com/Products-Services/Situational-Leadership-II

Northouse, P. G. (2018). Leadership: Theory and Practice, 8th Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

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Rok, B. (2009). Ethical context of the participative leadership model: taking people into account. Corporate Governance, 9(4), 461-472.

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