Just In Time -- Labor Daze: How Do You Define Leadership?

Aug. 10, 2006
With fewer and fewer skilled workers in their ranks, manufacturing leaders are still expected to lead their troops to victory.

How do you define leadership? Is it A) the ability to get things done, on time, under budget and exceeding expectations? B) the ability to motivate others to accomplish things they might not ordinarily believe they could do? C) the ability to anticipate unforeseeable events, and then to act upon them without hesitation?

Most of us would agree the answer is all of the above, plus many other attributes that, when taken as a whole, add up to a definition of leadership. Leaders are assessed, rightly or wrongly, not so much by what they do as by the actions of the people following them. That's why generals are blamed when they lose a battle -- why head coaches are blamed when their teams fail to make the playoffs -- why politicians are blamed when levees fail to hold back rising water -- and why plant managers are blamed when defective products are returned. In manufacturing, as in any other field, leadership failures as often as not coincide with a failure to communicate with employees. A recent study published by Deloitte Consulting points out exactly how big a problem it can be for leaders to lose touch with the people working for them. In a survey of nearly 150 senior executives, a mere 8% indicated that their employees are completely aware of the company's strategic objectives, and how their own performance goals are linked to those objectives.

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See Chain Reaction: David Blanchard's new blog about supply chain management.
According to Brent Wortman, a Deloitte partner, "Our research shows that employees may be the key to unlocking value by developing better habits that may ultimately change a company's behavior and effectively create value. This is a full-time commitment and requires the effort of the entire company and its workforce."

As this month's cover story ("Labor Days") indicates, however, that's a lot easier said than done. Lately it's become increasingly difficult for manufacturing companies to meet their production goals because of a widening skills gap among the workforce. Put simply, there aren't enough skilled workers to meet the current needs of American manufacturers. That puts even more of a burden on today's manufacturing leaders who find themselves trying to satisfy the "better, faster, cheaper" demands of their customers with an understaffed, underskilled workforce -- certainly not a career path for the faint-hearted.

That being said, U.S. industrial manufacturers aren't exactly throwing up their hands in surrender; quite the contrary, they're projecting an average revenue increase of 8.1% for the next 12 months, according to a recent Pricewaterhouse-Coopers study. So clearly, the men and women running these companies and factories have a high degree of confidence in their people and their ability to get the job done right, even as they strategize to overcome the skills gap.

"Getting the job done right" is a recurring theme in this issue, as it will be in every issue of IndustryWeek. As I settle in as the new editor-in-chief (after a lengthy tour of duty on IW's sister publication, Logistics Today), our mission here will be to look at the specific tools, processes and strategies manufacturing leaders are using to gain a competitive edge in their industries while continuously improving their operations.

No matter where you encounter IW -- whether it's in the traditional paper-based magazine, online, at one of our conferences or some other venue -- we aim to be the leading resource for manufacturing operations knowledge. The manufacturing industry will only be as good as its leaders can make it, and our role will be to enable an ongoing dialogue that will inspire you with ideas that will help you achieve your goals. Because at the end of the day. . . no, strike that . . . at the beginning of the day, it will be up to you as the industry's leaders to inspire the best results from your workforce.

David Blanchard is IW's editor-in-chief. He is based in Cleveland. Also see Chain Reaction: David Blanchard's new blog about supply chain management.

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