Leadership checklist for manufacturing CEOs

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It’s no secret, is it? Margins are very difficult to increase by raising prices, which means margin improvement today comes mainly from lowering cost of goods sold and administration.
Companies we work with are doing this by using recycled raw materials and involving creative minds and knowledgeable employees in Lean process improvement efforts. The results, when properly applied in the few cases they are, are dramatic.
So, what’s preventing driven, concerned leaders from achieving dramatic gains? What’s giving them only marginal, if any, gains from the Lean efforts?
Here’s the checklist we look at. It has very little to do with process and the details of execution, and everything to do with leadership:
4 Are employees buying into you, the leader? If not, they don’t buy into your ideas, either. To the degree they do buy into your leadership, that’s the degree of energy and effectiveness they put into the manufacturing improvement efforts. It all starts at the top.
Employees tolerate a lot if they know you are sincere and trying hard to do right, not on your own behalf, but on their, the customers’ and the organization’s behalf. They are very, very perceptive if you aren’t. They sense it in your mannerisms very easily. That’s why it’s so hard to gain trust as a leader. (Witness our presidents!)
Our research demonstrates that leadership ineffectiveness is created by some very deep drivers that the leader has. Their origin is: fear of failure, repeating a very negative failure probably from long ago; aspiration, to achieve something that respected others have; and/or the desire to repeat a past success. Whichever it is, achieving it is core to the leader’s self-esteem, the ‘need’ to be ‘successful.’ As a leader, even if you can’t articulate this driver, you won’t let it be compromised. That’s part of your success, and in stress, the cause of your failures.
What are yours drivers? You have them. We all do.
4 Has the leader put in place the over-riding reason why the Lean initiative is critical to company success? Employees must know why it is important … to the company’s financial strength, to its strategy for serving customers better than competitors and to the employee’s welfare. Show the passion. Without it, employees emulate your lack of it.
4 Has the leader set expectations? Humans seem to be “hard-wired” to achieve goals, or at least to try to achieve them … when they know what they are. Are they clear? Simple? Well publicized? Is progress publicized daily, or at least weekly? Are there non-blaming discussions about roadblocks and what to do about them?
4 When asked to decide, does the leader jump to solutions without capturing more facts? It’s fatal for successful leaders to get lolled into the myth that they make great decisions. Perhaps their intuition and experience does serve in good stead, but less and less so in these changing times. It’s better to capture as many insights and facts as time permits. Even better, leave the decision to those closer to the problem. Help them with their approach. Tell them how you would approach it, not what the answer should be. This also shows you support their expertise … that you TRUST them, which is a major builder of loyalty and energy. Leaders should stick to strategy and hiring great people, not operations.
Leaders often don’t want ambiguity, the absence of certainty. They have been successful, due to their certainty. But letting people struggle for their own answers builds their competence. Leaders need to tolerate, even embrace this ambiguity.
4 Does the leader spend time talking with everybody, regardless of position? That shows the leader considers them part of his/her team … and people are very loyal to their team members.
4 Does the leader openly admit imperfection? This is the most under-appreciated, under-utilized aspect of leadership. Nobody buys into a perfect person. They don’t need help. They don’t need me. Employees buy into a leader when they know they are needed to achieve what the leader is leading, and that occurs because the leader acknowledges, tells where he/she isn’t good and needs help. It’s important to openly acknowledge lack of knowledge, and appreciation for what the employee knows! Vulnerability is critical to leadership success.
The top two motivators are: Involvement in something that is important
to you, and recognition for your
4 Are blockers being eliminated? Team participants are either energizers or blockers. They either figure out solutions to problems or impede possible solutions. When a person is recognized to be a blocker, leaders must confront the person about their behavior and ask for it to stop. If it doesn’t, the person must be removed. Removing blockers energizes the team. Letting them fester and disrupt de-energizes the team.
Empowering employee teams to achieve improvements is very effective. Too often, we inadvertently put barriers in front of them, impeding their ability to be effective. Sometimes they are physical barriers, but since those are fairly easily recognized and dealt with, more often it is the psychological ones.
The checklist above, in our fairly extensive experience with companies, helps remove those psychological barriers to continuing improvement.
Ken Utech and Phil Hauck are the co-authors of “Recapturing The Growth Track: Correcting Leaders Disempowering Behaviors.” Utech is the principal of his own firm, Utech Consulting, which has for more than 10 years worked with CEOs and their senior teams in southeastern and northeastern Wisconsin. Hauck has coordinated three TEC CEO Groups and a Marketing/Sales Executive Group in Green Bay for more than 10 years. Their book is published by Quorum Books.
April 29, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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