The leadership technique that you use when a machine is on fire is radically different from the one needed to drive waste out of a process. Modern manufacturing leaders should be able to recognize four basic approaches to directing people and when to use each one.
“It’s up to all of us… to let good people be successful and actually enjoy what they do on a daily basis,” says John Dyer, president of John Dyer & Associates, Inc. – Process Innovation Co. and a regular contributor to IndustryWeek.
Dyer made those comments during a webinar in November for members of IndustryWeek’s IW Members Only section, a free service that requires registration but does not include fees or subscriptions. Click here to sign up for the member’s only service and get access to Dyer’s presentation and other premium material.
Dyer’s four basic leadership styles range from dictatorial to collaborative.
- Style 1: Crisis Leader—Style 1 leadership techniques focus on speed and execution for decisions. Seeking consensus and empaneling committees to study problems are bad ideas when a critical customer needs its parts yesterday.
- Style 2: Idea-Gathering Leader—Once the immediate crisis has abated, leaders need to hear from people on the shop floor who might have an idea of what caused the crisis in the first place. Decisions still come from the leader but now with more staff input.
- Style 3: Team-Forming Leader—The leader’s role becomes more of choosing who to put into different groups and less about solving individual problems.
- Style 4: Empowerment Leader—Decision making flows from the teams, and the leader’s role becomes more one of coordination and less of direction. Decentralizing control puts critical decisions in the hands of the people working directly with processes.
“A good leader knows all four of these styles and knows when it’s appropriate to use which style, given the circumstances,” Dyer says. Typically, companies progress from Style 1 to Style 4, but short-term crises such as emergency orders from critical customers or supply chain disruptions can temporarily force companies to go from collaborative leadership structures back to autocratic ones.
“Once you’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to work in Style 3 or Style 4, you’re not going to want to go back,” Dyer says, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations into crisis response. He blames some of the quitting and recruiting problems on that crisis-mode thinking. “[People] remember what it was like before COVID, when they were in that style 3 or 4 mindset, and now they’ve been in Style 1 for two-plus years, and they’re getting frustrated.”
Dyer presented an example from a client that trained leaders in different styles and when to use them, also mentioning that he used many of the same techniques when he worked at General Electric’s appliance division. In both cases, the companies had teams of quality engineers, industrial engineers and manufacturing engineers, and relations between the groups were difficult because they had different goals.
So, Dyer and his teams broke up those engineering teams and cross-trained people so each one could work on quality, ergonomics and output. A handful of specialists remained siloed, but their jobs became to support and advise. Process innovation leaders (PILs) then embedded themselves in different parts of factory operations.
Dyer says each of those PILs ended up going through each of the leadership styles. The following example came from his client’s machining division:
- Year 1, Style 1. Downtime was hugely problematic to the point that workers joked the maintenance department was in the machines more than the parts were. Solving the downtime issue was the absolute priority.
- Year 2, Style 2 and Style 3. As the downtime crises faded, the PIL set a vision for the machining group, “If this were your own business, how would you run it so it is the envy of the world?” That vision drove innovation suggestions from staff, driving improvement and eventually problem-solving teams.
- Year 3, Style 4. Operators managed the department. “[The operators] were on top of things. Whenever there was an issue that came up, the operators themselves would form a quick team on the shop floor and address the problem real time and put out the fire before anyone even knew the fire had occurred.”
The results: The plant went from making 1,300 products per day, plus-or-minus 1,000 to making 2,300 parts per day, plus-or-minus 1. Eliminating that chaotic variability lowered costs, improved capacity and improved customer relations by ensuring that the plant could meet its obligations.
Finding leaders who can thrive in collaborative operations is tough, Dyer notes. During the 1980s and 1990s, most people directing workers were managers, not leaders. In the 2000s, lean and Six Sigma tactics changed manufacturing thinking by stressing the value of the collective experience of manufacturing line workers.
While a good manager can become a good leader with training, Dyer stresses that the roles are very different.
“Good leaders—especially if you get to Style 4 where you’re empowering people—they need to be humble, they need to be trusting, they need to be good visionaries, they need to really have a lot of empathy for their employees to develop that connection.”
Rather than looking for lean experience, Dyer suggests focusing on those values when selecting leaders. “I can teach anyone how to do lean or Six Sigma. It’s difficult to teach someone not to be a jerk.”
In addition to leadership styles and how to structure positions to take advantage of them, Dyer discussed:
- Vision—The importance of setting a bold direction and how to communicate that throughout the organization.
- The advantages of improving operations—Eliminating chaos can lead to massive results if leadership is effective.
- Characteristics of great leaders—Commitment to improvement is key.
- Work standardization for leadership—Following established processes isn’t just for line workers.
Click here to see the entire webinar and access supporting materials from Dyer.