Every day, we are inundated with information coming to us from multiple sources recommending how we should be better, faster, smarter, and more informed. Each of us decides to either click the link, read the book, or attend the webinar according to our belief in the material presented. However, after 25 years in the manufacturing industry, I routinely come across managers and leaders that have forgotten the simple art of leadership.
Depending upon who you listen to, leadership can be measured by tracking and posting a plethora of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) which we use to justify the nature of our leadership style. Every decision we make has consequences and results. With each successful tick of the KPI we are patterned to repeat that action in other situations, assuming the same result. Unfortunately, where many have gone astray is by forgetting the need for understanding the human component of the process.
Certainly, we can agree that a machine with run at a programmed rate, for a given period of time, and produce a product within the specified parameters. The machine has no feelings, the machine doesn’t get tired, and the machine doesn’t have opinions. As long as we provide a required amount of attention (preventive maintenance) and a required amount of energy (raw materials, components, power supply) we can run the machine until it exceeds its useful life.
People, however, are clearly not the same. Yes, we all need a required amount of attention (training, interaction, instruction) and yes, we all require an amount of energy (food, happiness, family time, health) and with these, we too can run until we exceed our useful life. This is where I believe that many fall short.
As leaders, managers, supervisors within a department or organization, it is up to us to ensure that both mechanical and human assets are maintained. Every team member has a value to the organization, from the first day floor sweeper to the 25 year executive. It is our duty to consistently maintain the status of our mechanical systems, and most assuredly up to us to develop (maintain) our human systems.
The trick becomes building relationships with your team members that are meaningful and lasting. Over the years, I have seen countless managers ask the trite question “How was your weekend?” and really pay little attention to the reply. Or worse, I have overheard “How’s you mom doing?” to a reply of “she passed away 3 months ago.” The point is that if we are truly vested in our team, we will ask questions that we truly WANT to hear the answer to, we will continually improve the relationships within the plant so that when something happens in a team member’s life, we will know the answer as it happens, not 3 months after the fact.
This is what I refer to as Practical Leadership. Being a leader that cares about your team is not enough. You have to be engaged on a daily basis; not just in the corrective opportunities within your department, but in the small daily successes as well. The greatest skill I routinely try to mentor in my teams is the art of finding more positive in the plant than negative. I will grant, that part of our mission is to ensure operational effectiveness, efficiency, etc. But I challenge, that the better your relationships are with your team, the better the operation will become.
Written by: Kevin D. Cameron – Director of Operations Candidate – Food Manufacturing