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How Are You 'Showing Up'?

Be open to feedback about how you are perceived--and turn missed targets into better results.

It was a typical day in high-volume manufacturing. There was a new task at hand at the $100 million+, 300-person operation that needed to happen right away. Sound familiar? 

I gathered the leadership team together and explained the task that we needed to accomplish. Production numbers were down, and we needed to verify the cycle times for each station—how many seconds it was taking to process a part at a particular station versus target. I explained there was concern that “creep”—small touch-ups in the robot’s programs—may have resulted in a slow increase in cycle time. I even gave members of the team a simple spreadsheet to fill out, and some high-level description of how to accomplish the task.

It looked like everybody was good, so I sent the team back to the floor to “go get ‘er done.”  Feeling good about my leadership skills, I went back to my office to finish a report due for the monthly financial review.

It didn’t’ take long before my assistant, a straight shooter with a high level of emotional intelligence, came into my office. “Hey, Boss, looks like you really pissed the team off!” she said.

“How could this be?” I thought. “I gave clear direction, like a good leader should.”

Two positive things were already happening here. First, I had a trusted advisor who gave me the priceless gift of feedback. Second, I did not argue with her or defend my actions (at least not out loud). As a result, I was able to see a blind spot and get curious enough about it to take action.

I went back to the leaders to ask for some feedback, and quickly realized that I needed to bring them back in. They basically let me know I had turned their day upside down, right off the railroad tracks, and in turn that was going to affect the rest of the team and probably mean lower production for the shift. Priorities had suddenly changed, without any regard for the 100 other things going on that day.

This is what I learned from them: My focus initially had been on getting the information out; however, there was no involvement from them, hence no engagement. No exploring what else they had going on, no collaboration of how to get the job done, no realistic discussions of what support they would need. Essentially, there was no team painting of what “done” would look like, and how it would actually get accomplished.

I further learned that some of my understanding of completing this task using our system  would not be that quick to verify. It became very clear it would be a madhouse to put everyone’s focus on this, and the efforts would be diluted.

Through some great discussion, we decided to dedicate a couple of the leaders to the task, with support from engineering and controls. At the end of the day, we did not get all the verification done. This was OK, because as we walked through the plant, we identified the stations having the greatest impact on our cycle time and came up with a prioritized list to use in the future.

“Showing Up” is the difference between how we think and how we act. In this example, there were good intentions; however, my actions did not represent how I wanted to come across. I had a big gap here and was grateful someone had the courage to let me know.

Intentions vs. Perception

I recently interviewed 15 manufacturing leaders on the topic of Showing Up, incorporating their responses into a simple framework I call the Manufacturing Leadership Model.

In this framework, the person at the top of the organization desires to have an impact on their organization, and lead to make change. Most people in these high-level positions are pretty smart, but my interviews with them revealed that their actions did not always convey what they were thinking.

We may be inspired for the right reasons and think in a logical manner about a positive output, but the gap lies in how we actually appear to the team. If you can close this gap between intentions and perception—and the systems and structure are in place to hold things together—look out. This is where the magic can happen, with results in safety, quality, and production all driving a positive cost model.

You, Not They

How many times have you heard, or said to yourself, “they” need to be more engaged and motivated to get a particular task accomplished?

But how are you showing up?  How do you know?  When is the last time you asked for feedback from your team, peers or boss?  You need input from all three to clearly identify those blind spots.

I was blessed with the feedback I received that day—and thankful that I let myself be vulnerable enough accept it, which led to the courage to act on it.

Do your team a favor today and go find one of your blind spots. We all have those gaps between how we “show up” and how we think we appear.

A couple of tips on how to do this: First, do you have someone that is around you often during meetings or discussions on important topics?  If you do approach them to let them know you need some help. Describe how you want to be perceived—to show up—and ask whether they perceive you this way or not.

For example, if you want the team to be innovative and feel they are in a safe environment, do you as the leader actually make them feel this way?  Remember, the first step is self-awareness. If you don’t know where your gaps are, it’s pretty difficult to get better. Something there is room for, in all of us.

If you don’t have that go-to person, here is another strategy. You know how you have that member of your team who is trusted and works hard, but sometimes does not deliver the task at hand the way you expected it? Ask yourself “What do I own in this?” This is not as easy as it sounds, as you need to dig deep and reflect on what would have made this person more successful. When you are ready, approach the person with curiosity—and it has to be really genuine here—on what you could have done differently. If you are fortunate, you may get some crucial information about yourself. If you do, you need to thank this person sincerely, and see how you can apply their insight moving forward.

The hard work is so worth it. It feels great showing up as a better person!

And probably the most important tip: please do not be one of those people who say they are good with feedback, and immediately defend yourself. That is a surefire way never to get feedback again, even when you ask. They key here is that you are asking for feedback. It is your time to listen and take in and process. If you are curious and want to ask some deeper questions, that is great. When others begin to trust that they really do want to know there is a gap, it is amazing how constructive information about yourself will flow naturally, because people love people who are sincere and open!

To get the results you have not achieved before, you need to do something you have never done before. Will you choose to take action?

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