manufacturing leaders

What Makes a Successful Manufacturing Leader?

As manufacturing leaders, our mindset should be focused on ensuring the success of our team members on the plant floor. Successful leaders must develop specific skills to build team loyalty and keep operations running smoothly.

How To Be A Great Manufacturing Leader

If you Google “leadership,” you will get about 139,000,000 hits. That’s one hundred thirty-nine million! So it’s evident that many people have ideas about leadership.

If the sweetest sound a person can hear is his name, the most gratifying thing for a follower is that his leader understands who he is. A true leader adds value to people by training them, challenging them to achieve, and honestly evaluating their roles in the company. Knowing their stories and finding out who they are will help you to add value.

Understanding Your People

Don’t expect you will learn your people’s stories by interviewing them. Walking up to someone on the floor, whipping out your notebook, and saying, “Okay, I want to know all about you, so shoot!” will only ensure that you are labeled as a nut before the end of the shift.

Getting to know people in a workplace isn’t all that different from getting to know them anywhere else. It takes time, effort, and patience. Not everyone will open up at the same time and to the same degree, but even the most hardened member of your team will tell his story eventually. To learn their stories, remember that you must be open to being teachable, or all this effort will go to waste.

Assessing Your People

Evaluating people’s skills and temperament and determining their role in the organization will occupy much of your time as a manager. Your company expects you to assess your people annually, which will become a part of their permanent record. Imagine the difficulty in being accurate without knowing who they are!

You do a disservice to your boss, you, and most importantly, your people if you complete evaluations with incomplete knowledge. Consider being passed over for a promotion by your faceless boss because he assumed you were happy exactly where you were! This is just the sort of thing you risk doing to your people if you remain unknown to them and they to you. 

The converse is true as well. Warm, fuzzy feelings are a great thing at the annual office Christmas party, but there are those unfortunate times when you need to lead somebody out the door – a termination. So knowing their story will be important here as well, just in case they can be saved.  

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

You know that you manage things and lead people, and you know their stories which have aided you in making proper evaluations. Promotions can be very good events, but they can turn bad and ugly quickly if you make a poor choice. Certainly, skills and performance will play a significant role in your decision to promote. For example, you won’t likely promote a perennially mediocre performer, but you might promote a trusted employee who has succeeded at everything he was assigned.

On the other hand, if you don’t know your people, you might promote that trusted employee right into a position for which he is wholly unsuited. Maybe he can’t handle making quick decisions and cracks under pressure. Perhaps he runs away from the inevitable confrontations that occur in stressful situations. Maybe he is having trouble balancing his work and personal life in his new, more demanding role. So he’s failed….and so have you. Although there is no guarantee that any promotion will be good, you owe it to your candidate and yourself to know if his story will likely lead him to success or disaster.

These can be hard decisions, especially if a candidate has done well for you and wants to advance. But should you make a bad decision, he will suffer far more from the promotion than the disappointment of being denied the opportunity.

The experienced manager understands this and often uses his instinct in these situations. This instinct, or gut feeling, is probably due to learning from their failure. Odds are, he promoted someone who failed miserably, and it still haunts him. Maybe he even lost a friend over it. Again, we will caution that gut instinct needs to be reinforced with objectivity.

Two Most Important Manufacturing Leader Characteristics

In those 139,000,000 Google hits, there are plenty that list leadership characteristics. Some will list 5, some will list 7, and others will list many more. However, only two, in our humble opinion, are required for influential leaders. They are trust and integrity. Your followers and leaders must believe they can trust you to have the integrity to do the right thing, no matter how hard it may be.

As a leader…your principal job is to create an operating environment where others can do great things.” – Richard Teerlink 

This will require building trust and integrity within the enterprise. It starts at the factory with the plant manager. Create mutual respect among team members that commands the management team to operate in a manner that embraces honesty. Honesty builds trust, trust builds integrity, and integrity builds character. These are qualities that no one can give or take away from you. Your choices are your own. This will require that you offer your very best.

Here is a quick reference guide to the major differences between leaders and managers. Remember that you are both, and the trick is in the timing.

Position PowerPersuasion Power
Doing Things RightDoing The Right Things
Light A Fire Under PeopleStroke The Fire in People
Enforces CultureDefines Cultures
manufacturing leadership

Learn More About Manufacturing Leadership from the Pros at IntoCeramics

IntoCeramics has decades of industry experience and expertise in manufacturing consulting, ceramic engineering, operations, and leadership. Want to learn more about what it takes to be a great manufacturing leader? Check out our educational book, On The Plant Floor: A practical guide to daily leadership in the manufacturing factory.

Contact us online or call us at 406-370-8923 to learn more about what IntoCeramics has to offer.