Who’s Taking the Lead? (Part 1)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“How do you fill leadership roles, from the CEO to the floor supervisor? Employees who could become leaders?”

Chemicals Supply: David Barbe, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.

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David Barbe

David Barbe

There are many different things that make managers and supervisors successful. And, many different things are considered to choose employees to promote. But, I think a lot of these reasons are a distraction from the most critical considerations.

For example, I’ve seen many people at various businesses promoted because they were good employees. It seems logical to promote your best workers. To this concept, I say, “Maybe.” You might have someone who excels at their current tasks, but this doesn’t prove they can excel at management. They may or may not have the temperament and patience to deal with all the problems of leadership.

Many times, education is a big consideration for a position. That seems like a reasonable assumption. Again, that’s not always true. Just because someone has had the determination and intelligence to get more education doesn’t prove their leadership abilities. They may or may not have the vision to solve problems and improve processes or production situations.

Experience is another consideration. The supposition is that lots of experience teaches people things. Length of service to one’s employer is important, and loyalty is certainly a consideration. And, while I’ve heard it said that good leaders are born, there are many training companies that run lots of classes trying to teach leadership.

So, how does one choose a good supervisor or manager? It does take someone with a lot of the described attributes to make a good leader. My advice is to certainly consider all these things, but I’m a big believer in character and attitude as being the most important factors.

Character and attitude are developed over one’s entire life. They are the hardest things to change about a person. You can teach them skills, explain procedures, set goals, etc., but you can’t change someone’s character or attitude easily.

Watch how candidates interact with their fellow employees. Are they industrious, consistent and conscientious? Do they get along well with everyone? Do they offer suggestions to improve things that are rational and reasoned toward improving things, not just making their job easier? Is this person honest, polite and kind to everyone? Are they organized and dependable? Do they understand the purpose of your company and what makes it successful?

Get to know all your employees well. Talk to them; observe their work and their interaction with others. Promoting a grouch, a bully, a cheat, or someone with any major character flaw will come back to haunt you. If you don’t have someone outstanding, look outside your company. Don’t settle for someone you aren’t thrilled about promoting.

Textiles: Cecil B. Lee, Standard Textile, Cincinnati, Ohio

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Cecil B. Lee

Cecil B. Lee

Employees who could become leaders do become leaders through training.

I have shared with others I have worked with over the years that hiring employees is one of the toughest jobs I experience. I would even go as far as to say, “There is nothing more important than the people you hire to do the work.”

The goal is to find people who you believe share the fire, drive or passion that you have. Many times, this happens while working with people inside your plant. Someone might say or do something that makes you realize they care, they are driven, and they are intelligent, with the potential to learn so much more. They may handle a situation with just the right balance of technical and practical savvy.

It is interesting to find out the experiences of current employees, from their educational backgrounds to their experiences in other organizations. From there, you can have conversations to determine their professional desires and goals. Sometimes, even knowing what current employees are doing in the community can be an insight to their readiness to do something different in the plant.

I have experienced success hiring internally. After sharing my expectations, training them to develop the skill set needed for success is the next task. It is important that the trainee not get overwhelmed or be given more responsibility than they can bear or handle. I truly believe in creating a team of support. When an employee is promoted into a new leadership role, it is helpful that they already know the facility and have a functional understanding of the operations. The support structure for new leaders cannot be understated.

Regarding upper management, up to and including the CEO, it is important that education and progressive training is a part of your normal developmental methodology. It serves as your succession planning for the eventuality of someone leaving. The fundamental thing is that this development of staff should be ongoing. Preparing staff through ongoing development opportunities is worth the investment because it will pay off when you need someone to step in. 

If you are in a fairly large organization, access to a broader pool of people can come through recommendations from others. This happens through networking, relationship building and professional connections. It is important to develop relationships of honesty such that both the employer and the candidate are helped or advantaged. There is a fit for everyone; it is about finding that best place.

Hiring externally is similar; it just typically requires more time. Both processes are scientific and artistic. Whether internal or external, it comes down to a decision you have to make based on assessments and gut.

In the end, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The real gain stems from the concept that training is forever.

Hiring is not life or death, but it can be life-changing.

Check back tomorrow to get the commercial laundry and uniform/workwear viewpoints...

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