- July 5, 2023
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: Leadership, Manufacturing
The more leadership changes, the more it stays the same. This is true for manufacturing leadership, if not leadership in general.
In a lot of ways, the things it takes to be a leader now are not the same things it took back in the 70s, but in some ways, they’re exactly the same.
Back then, a leader was the boss. You did things the way he wanted them done, or he’d fire you. And yes, it was nearly always a “he.”
Leaders often felt like they had to be the smartest one in the room, and that they had to know more about the job than anyone else. They weren’t used to having their decisions or their credentials and experience questioned. A company would sink or swim depending on the fragility of the leader’s ego and whether he could admit he was wrong, or at least not qualified.
But good leaders haven’t changed that much. Good leaders had to be good listeners, they had to get people to buy into their vision, and they realized they shouldn’t be the experts. They surrounded themselves with good, smart people and make sure that they themselves are not the expert.
They still have to do all this.
We’ve also reached the point where leaders have to know more about how to read data. It’s more than just reading financial spreadsheets, you have to be able to read data-heavy reports because you’ll get so much of it from your machines.
So that means you also have to change your decision-making style from flying by the seat of your pants to a data-driven one. Too many leaders of old operated on instinct and gut feel about their operations. Except instincts and gut feelings lie to us, or we miss important signals that we should pick up on. But the data never lies.
Communication styles have also changed. As I mentioned earlier, 50 years ago, the boss was the boss, and you did things just because he said so. There was no chance for feedback and he didn’t ask you your opinion on how things should be done. If he wanted your opinion, he’d give it to you.
Not today. Younger workers prefer a kinder, gentler management style, and they won’t follow you just because you say so. You need to get people to buy into your ideas and you have to get them to want to follow you. Like it or not, younger workers aren’t putting up with this “because I’m the boss” bullshit anymore. They have options, and they’ll go elsewhere if they feel they’re not being heard, treated well, and appreciated. You may not like it, but this is the new reality.
But if you want to retain loyalty among your people and not have them go elsewhere, you need to be able to communicate effectively, let them communicate back, and help them find the work that lets them be fulfilled.
What Is Your Why?
Ultimately, you need to be able to communicate your Why to get people to follow you. You’ve probably seen Simon Sinek’s “Find Your Why TED talk. (If you haven’t, I recommend it.)
If you can help people in your company understand the reason and imperative behind the work they’re doing, they will find their fulfillment. If you can help them understand how their efforts lead to your company’s success, they’ll find their fulfillment. And if you share the success with them, and let them see that the company has met its goals thanks to their efforts, they’ll find their fulfillment.
This is a far cry from the way leaders operated 50, 40, or even 30 years ago. The old way of “I’m the boss, do as I say” thinking is dying out, although not quickly enough. Leaders are often learning this lesson the hard way, that they need to be more communicative, be more persuasive, and have to help younger workers find fulfillment in their work.
Leaders have to be able to “find their why” and communicate effectively to their workforce. Without that, you’ll constantly be hiring new workers to replace the ones who left in search of a more modern leader.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, including improving their manufacturing leadership. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
Photo credit: Toyota Material Handling (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)