It’s Only Common Sense: Let’s Talk Leadership


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Do you ever sit back and wonder what kind of leader you are? Are the people who work for you inspired by you or do they work for you because you are the only game in town? Would they stay with you if a similar company opened across the street? How about if they could earn a dollar more an hour by moving across the street to that new company? Have you inspired them enough that they would follow you through hell, or have you beaten them up so badly that they would not follow you across the room to a free buffet?

Things today are not like they were in 2000. People have more choices when it comes to employment in this country. With the new wage laws, some employees might find better pay at McDonald’s than in your plating shop, and they might do better working at a day care center than in your inspection department.

And those are just the line workers. As for managers and engineers—they just aren’t around any longer. Many of them have retired or died, sorry to say, and the ones who are left can be very choosy about where they work and what they get paid. Many of the companies I work with are on a constant lookout for engineers, engineering managers, production managers and supervisors. Forget about quality managers; every company owner I speak with is looking for a good quality manager.

Then there is competition from the great new-era companies like Google and Zappos. These firms hire people for their brains, enthusiasm and passion, and they treat employees like respected family members. Once hired, employees never want to leave because of the great work environment: free gourmet food, exercise centers, day care, on-site chiropractors, nap times and plain old productive fun. These companies are attracting our smartest young people. How are we going to compete with them? What are you going to do about it?

We’re going to have to change our ways. We are going to have to emulate these companies. We are going to have to develop our own vision about what we do. In our business, for example, most of our line workers don’t really know what they are building. They are just putting together these “green things that go into computers,” and that’s all they know. Maybe that’s why the most prevalent defects in any circuit board shop are the result of poor handling of the product.

We must create our own story about how important our product is. Because of the very nature of the applications that our products go into, this should not be that difficult. We build boards that go into products that are changing the world, like rocket ships that will launch satellites, which themselves will deliver the Internet to every corner of the world someday. Our boards go into medical devices that are saving thousands of lives all over the world. These PCBs go into electric cars and wind turbines and underwater exploration vehicles. They’ve taken us to the moon and back. If you talk about the great companies like Microsoft and Apple, you can’t do so without mentioning the printed circuit board. So, it should not be difficult to remind our people of the important work they are doing. We just have to get them to understand that they’re not just laying bricks—they are helping to build a beautiful cathedral.

And that’s just the first step. What about your own leadership skills? Here is a list of 10 of the most important things that a leader should be doing; check them out and ask yourself how many apply to you. Ask yourself if these things represent the way you are leading your own people. As a great leader, you must:

  1. Develop and communicate the company vision clearly and concisely, and do it repeatedly until everyone in the company knows it.
  2. Be the shining example for the rest of the team. Whatever you do will be multiplied by 10 as seen by your employees, so it had better be all good.
  3. Treat everyone equally, from your top managers to the people cleaning your facility; they are all an important part of your team.
  4. Enjoy what you are doing and make sure that your team does as well.
  5. Care about the company’s reputation—it’s your most important asset.
  6. Hire people better and smarter than you—they are your future.
  7. Develop people—as I said, they are your future.
  8. Hire for passion; the rest can be learned, but passion, not so much.
  9. Be ready to grow, change, and adapt to the future and the changes that it brings.
  10. 10. Worship your customers. Don’t ever bad-mouth them. Remember that your employees are following your lead.

And in the spirit of under-promising and over-delivering, one more tip: Be a good person, with intelligent humility and unswerving generosity of spirit. The best compliment you can hear from one of your employees is that you are a good, fair person and they have the ultimate amount of respect for you.

If you see yourself in all the things mentioned, then good for you. I am sure that it is reflected in your company’s success. But if you do not find yourself represented here, then you’d better get to work because it’s later than you think.

It’s only common sense.

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