Article

Manufacturing Leadership

Inadequate or incapable leadership is one of the most common failure modes present throughout all industries and sectors.  For this article, our focus is specifically on manufacturing.  At the core of a manufacturing leader’s responsibility is to ensure that clear and relevant expectations are set, ensure their team has the necessary skills and support to achieve expectations, and then hold the team accountable to achieve said expectations.  In the end, those employees who work the manufacturing line on the floor are the ones who create value – they are our 'customer.'  If not for them, we have no product and we have no jobs.   

Without the foundation of effective leadership, the erosion of performance, employee retention, operational stability, and the bottom line is inevitable.


6 qualities of an effective leader

Humble:

A humble leader is one that recognizes the benefits of operating as a team, not as a group of individuals.  They have an appreciation for the synergies that are created by empowering their employees to work together for better solutions.  A humble leader is not threatened by those who disagree or challenge the status quo.  A humble leader puts the needs of their plant or team ahead of individual agendas.  Humble leaders sincerely desire their employees to be successful and coach, mentor, and empower their team.  This serving style of leadership drives superior results but more importantly, develops strong leaders for the future.

Assume good intentions and operate under the premise that at least 95% of the people want to do a good job. Leadership in service of the team drives superior results and retention of great people. When people feel valued as a member of the team, their work product improves. Arrogance destroys leverage.  Quickly, everyone finds themselves working one or two layers down. This is counterproductive to an empowered workforce. Strategy becomes a luxury.

Humble leaders bring the best out of the whole team, and in turn, have the time to plan for the future.

Systematic:

Effective leaders know their processes and always focus on improving the process.  When things fail or problems occur, managers are often quick to immediately focus on what the person did wrong – in essence assigning blame to the employee.  In reality, the first question should be, 'what is the process?' Followed by, 'why did the process fail?' Effective leaders recognize that the overwhelming majority of employees want to do a good job – no one sets out to fail or to make a mistake.  It is everyone's job to ensure that our processes are robust and contribute to our employees being successful.    Secondly, problems, when found, should be celebrated.  A diagnosis creates the opportunity to solve a problem and improve our operation. 

Systematic leaders know their process, seek to continuously improve their process, and build a problem-solving culture.

Present:

To know our people and to understand our process we must go where value is created (or destroyed) on the shop floor. Leaders must be available to their people and provide coaching in real-time.  When more time is spent behind a computer screen than on the shop floor, leaders can become disconnected from reality, lose perspective, and make dangerous assumptions about how the operation is performing.  Time spent on the floor interacting with your team and understanding your process must be sacred.  Effective leaders recognize this and ensure that their presence becomes a standard, not an abnormality. By knowing who is responsible for what, and how they do it every day, leaders can empower their teams to resolve issues quickly and prevent them before they happen.

Present leaders understand their operations intimately, stop problems before they compound, and develop strong relationships with their people. 

Communicative:

Communication is like blood coursing throughout the human body.  When blood stops flowing in our bodies we die; when communication stops flowing in the organization it dies.  Effective leaders recognize the power of communication.  It brings life to an organization and it removes harmful rumors or false perceptions.  Without transparent communication, teams will create their own reality. Current operational and performance status should be shared without hidden agendas.  Leaders that hoard information drive distrust and separation,  constrain their team’s ability to solve problems, and place a limit on organizational performance. By circulating robust and transparent information, a manufacturing plant can thrive.

Communicative leaders remove roadblocks by keeping their people informed of company decisions, before, during, and after they get made.

Situational:

An effective leader understands and manages according to the situation that is presented.  This concept not only applies organizationally but also operationally.  At any given point in time, a leader will have managers, supervisors, and employees, at different levels of capability, competence, and motivation.  A leader must learn to manage each in accordance with the specific situation.  Said another way – the most unfair approach you can take with your people is to treat them all equally.  Treat everyone with respect and empathy but tailor the approach based on the needs of that employee at that point in time.

Operationally the same discernment is also necessary.  An effective leader needs to take various approaches to operational challenges based on the associated circumstances and risk factors for that moment.  For instance, sometimes a leader needs to go deep into the details behind a certain issue or challenge to properly understand, prioritize, and set into motion required resources for resolution.  However, the leader must not continually remain in the details and lose sight of the total operation – “not able to see the forest for the trees”.  Other times, it may not be necessary to dive in deep for the details but rather to delegate the concern or issue for more efficient resolution. 

Situational leaders understand each team member and challenge individually and engage them in an appropriate way to deliver the best outcomes.

Deliberate:

As mentioned previously, just as everyone wants to do a good job, everyone also desires to make a difference.  "Is what I am doing making a difference?" Effective leaders ensure that there is strong alignment from plant objectives all the way to shop floor objectives.  Everyone clearly understands the expectations, goals, and objectives, and how what they do contributes to the overall success of the plant.  Effective leaders further create an environment of accountability.  For some reason, this word has come to carry a negative connotation. In reality, accountability creates a positive and challenging environment.  Simply put, accountability is about doing what you say you are going to do.  When everyone operates in this way, a culture of trust and respect is formed.

“What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” - Emerson 

To function, teams need aligned goals and expectations.  When well-led, everyone understands the precise goals and objectives of the organization and how each individual on the team influences and affects those results. People are held accountable for their actions and for delivering on their commitments. Employees entrust leaders with their livelihoods, when it is clear that someone is not meeting understood expectations, they must be let go. 

Deliberate leaders consider input carefully, make decisions and do what they say they would.


Leaders inhabit the unique position to connect individuals to the team, plant, company and industry. That opportunity comes with the responsibility of being an effective leader. When aligned to a common goal, given access to transparent information, properly supported and engaged, a team can accomplish tremendous things.


Author:

Richard Payne

Engagement Manager

About Seraph: 

Seraph's team of operational managers and senior consultants intercede on our client's' behalf to fix a crisis that is putting the business at immediate risk, turnaround a situation that is damaging the bottom line or restructuring to improve the balance sheet. Seraph has successfully delivered projects in the following regions: The Americas, Europe, China, and India. Seraph's Industry Expertise Includes Aerospace, Automotive, Energy Infrastructure, Healthcare, and Medical Devices. Through our other operating companies, we are continually looking for distressed situations where we can put our expertise and capital to work to create value. 

16 November 2020