Everyone would agree that manufacturing has changed substantially over the past century. From general working conditions to plant automation, and pension plans to digital technologies, manufacturing has come a very long way.
That doesn’t happen without great manufacturing leadership.
While some manufacturers still employ those executive dinosaurs who continue to fight the tide of change and haven’t embraced the type of leadership that today’s workforce demands, the vast majority of manufacturers have changed with the times. Manufacturers today must:
Compete for skilled workers and entice tomorrow’s leaders to join the industry.
Operate an increasingly fast-paced and sophisticated supply chain.
Navigate through tariffs, trade agreements, and political challenges.
Generate digital strategies that maximize ROI in an increasingly complex environment.
Predict technological transformations that not only affect the business but also the products developed.
We know that navigating all that change requires leadership, but what makes a great manufacturing leader? Here’s our top 8 things that great manufacturing leaders do.
1. Build a Company Culture of Enthusiasm, Teamwork, and a Common Vision
A lot of older executives don’t believe in the concept of company culture. To them it’s a mushy sentiment that doesn’t belong in the tough world of manufacturing (you’ve probably met a few of these types of leaders).
Today’s manufacturing leaders must not only recognize that company culture matters, but they must also work to actively build their company culture. Plastering your manufacturing plants with signs declaring company values just isn’t enough. Manufacturing leaders must find ways to create the right culture within their companies, and prove to employees that it’s not just lip service.
Connecting with employees and inspiring passion and creativity, is important in lots of industries, but it’s especially important in manufacturing because it has a reputation for being a repetitive, boring, and soul-sucking. The reality is that modern manufacturing requires people who have passion for the company and products in order the thrive. Passion not only drives company culture, but it also encourages employees to think big and look for ways to contribute to the common vision of the company.
2. Maintain High Expectations and Hold People Accountable
Setting high (and reasonable) expectations for employees is like creating a blueprint for success, not only for the employee, but for the entire company as well. One of the marks of a highly effective manufacturing leader is the ability to deliver consistent feedback, make the tools available, and set high expectations that challenge employees to deliver remarkable results that are well within their capabilities.
On the other side of that ideal is that effective manufacturing leaders must also hold people accountable when they don’t meet expectations. Making excuses for employees, or “giving them a pass”, sends the wrong signal to everyone in the organization, damages the leader’s credibility, harms company culture, and ultimately hurts the business.
3. Become a Change Agent with an Entrepreneurial Spirit
Great manufacturing leaders are also change agents who want to be innovative. They have a transformative vision of the business that usually focuses on improvements, development, or even new products. They shake things up, in a good way, to propel the business to the next level.
Great manufacturing leaders constantly question the status quo, and move the company away from the “this is how we’ve always done things” mentality, even when some employees resist the change.
They also use that change agent mentality to focus on problems and opportunities in their industry. They look for customer problems, and find solutions that they can bring to their customers. Great manufacturing leaders take every opportunity to spread that entrepreneurial spirit throughout the organization to drive solutions that optimize the business.
4. Exercise Strategic Planning and Fearless Decision Making
Great manufacturing leaders have the ability to look ahead and anticipate, with some accuracy, where the market is going. They can anticipate trends, and actively work to develop strategic plans based on those market indicators. Great manufacturing leaders build strategic plans around product development, the adoption of new technologies, new plant locations, or even internal changes that will improve their company.
But a leader isn’t great just because they’ve developed great strategic plans. Great manufacturing leaders must also be willing and able to make decisions. They don’t succumb to analysis paralysis or fear input from key stakeholders. Once a decision has been carefully considered by all those involved, great manufacturing leaders know when to step up and make the decision. They’re also prepared to stand by it.
5. Advocate for Cross-Functional Teams to Tackle Challenges
New opportunities and innovations are steadily becoming available for manufacturers, and many of these innovations have the possibility of opening up new markets and supply chains. It’s more important than ever to approach manufacturing opportunities with a strategic mindset. That means involving lots of different departments in the research, decision making process, and implementation processes.
Great manufacturing leaders encourage cross-functional teams that are made up of departments that haven’t always worked together, such as marketing, R & D, finance, and production. They recognize the importance of cross-functional teams to shape the strategic vision of the company and tackle challenges. This multi-departmental view is the only way to get a 360 degree view of challenges and opportunities, and great manufacturing leaders know that’s the best way to make strategic plans that really work for the company overall.
6. Embrace Technologies That Make Sense
In manufacturing, we all know that there’s always some new kind of technology that’s supposed to revolutionize everything. Sometimes new technologies live up to the hype and sometimes they don’t. Great manufacturing leaders know how to wade through all the nonsense and look at new technologies that will really move their company forward in terms of business innovation and product development. They embrace innovation when it makes sense for the business, but don’t chase after every new technology that catches their eye.
7. Use Emotional Intelligence to Empower Employees
In general, leadership positions have higher influence within an organization, but leaders with the highest influence also have high emotional intelligence (EQ). Great manufacturing leaders generally have high EQ, which helps them communicate more effectively, manage emotions within the company (as well as their own emotions), have better social awareness, and do a better job of conflict resolution.
Emotionally intelligent leaders understand and care about the feelings of others, and do a better job of preventing emotions from unduly influencing decisions.
One example of how a great manufacturing leader might use their EQ to influence employees is in the implementation of a new technology. A leader with high EQ is prepared for change-resistant employees to actively work to impede the implementation of new technologies in the workplace. They understand that change is difficult for some employees and find ways to make the transition less painful for them.
Emotionally intelligent leaders also use their EQ skills to empower employees. Great manufacturing leaders know how to delegate responsibilities without micromanaging subordinates. They know how to develop trust, provide them with the resources they need, support them, and give them a chance to succeed with more responsibility.
8. Effectively Communicate with Honesty, Integrity, and Transparency
Effective communication is probably the most essential trait of any leader, not just leaders in manufacturing. No leader can be effective managing their team until they can clearly communicate their vision, goals, and expectations.