Inadequate or incapable leadership is one of the most common failure modes present throughout all industries and sectors. For this article, our focus is on manufacturing. A manufacturing leader’s core responsibilities are to ensure clear and relevant expectations are set, equip the team with the necessary skills, provide the necessary support, communicate needed information, and hold the team accountable to achieve expectations. As leaders, our mindset and our priority are to ensure that our team members creating value on the manufacturing floor are successful. They are our customers – without them, we have no product and, consequentially, no job.
Without the foundation of effective leadership, the erosion of performance, employee morale, and profits, is inevitable.
Effective leaders are…
A humble leader is one that recognizes the benefits of operating as a team, not as a group of individuals. They appreciate and understand the synergies that are inevitably created by empowering and encouraging their employees to work and strive together for better solutions. A humble leader is not threatened by those who will disagree or challenge the status quo; in fact, alternative views are welcomed as they often lead to more robust, effective solutions. A humble leader has no need for any personal recognition. He or she puts the needs of their plant and team ahead of individual agendas. Humble leaders sincerely desire their employees to be successful by coaching, mentoring, and empowering their team to achieve their professional goals.
Great leaders assume the best in their people, not the worst. They understand that overwhelmingly people desire to do a good job. We serve our people by supporting and enabling this desire. When we operate from this perspective, a strong stable team and superior results will follow.
Humility is not weakness or “thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” – Rick Warren
Humility is foundational and requisite to the pursuit of excellence. Humble leaders bring the best out of the entire team.
Effective leaders know their processes and always focus on improving the process. When problems occur or when things go awry, managers frequently focus on “Who’ was to blame. In contrast, effective leaders focus on the process:
- Do we have a process?
- What is the process?
- Did we follow the process?
- Why did the process fail?
Again, if we subscribe to the fact that people want to be successful and do a good job, then we understand that no one sets out to fail or make a mistake. Effective leaders ensure that robust processes exist and that all employees are trained to and follow these processes. Additionally, when problems are found, they should be celebrated. By finding a problem we have created an opportunity to improve. In manufacturing, there are always opportunities to improve.
Systematic leaders know their process, seek to continuously improve their process, and build a problem-solving culture.
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 easily 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 and it must be consistent. Effective leaders recognize this and ensure that their presence becomes a standard, not an abnormality. An available, present, and attentive leader sends a clear message of support to his employees, and is a daily reminder that we are team. When present, leaders can react and respond to abnormalities or issues with a strong sense of urgency and responsibility.
Present leaders understand their operations intimately, stop problems before they compound, and develop strong relationships with their people.
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. Not only does communication deliver nutrients and bring life to an organization; it also removes wastes such as harmful rumors, speculation, or false perceptions. Without transparent and frequent 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 thrives and operates with strong alignment and trust.
Communicative leaders keep their people informed and create an environment of trust and commitment.
An effective leader understands and manages according to the situation at hand. 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 – lest they are “not able to see the forest for the trees”. Oftentimes, it may be necessary to delegate the issue for a more efficient resolution.
Situational leaders understand each team member and each challenge individually, engaging in an appropriate way to deliver the best outcomes.
Everyone also wants to make a difference – have the ability to make an impact. “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. Only when we have this strong alignment can we create the necessary environment of accountability. Effective leaders ensure that all employees are aligned and accountable to deliver the target results.
Accountability must never carry a negative connotation. In fact, accountability serves to create a positive and challenging environment. It’s just doing what you say you are going to do and meeting your commitments. When everyone operates in this environment, a culture of respect and trust is formed.
“What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” – Emerson
Deliberate leaders consider input carefully, make decisions, and do what they say they would.
Leaders have the unique opportunity to positively influence people’s lives in such a way that brings individual growth and satisfaction while creating a strong, powerful team bond. Being a leader is an honor and one that we must not take lightly; we owe it to our people and to their families to be the most Effective Leader we possibly can be.
Seraph’s team of operational managers and senior consultants intercede on our client’s’ behalf to fix crises putting businesses at immediate risk, turnaround situations damaging the bottom line, and restructure operations to improve the balance sheet. Seraph has successfully delivered projects in 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.