Leadership Is Not a Dirty Word

Does Your Company Raise, Train and Nurture Leaders? If Not, Maybe You Should Consider Going to One That Does

Walt BoyesBy Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

When we think of the "modern" theories of working together, we think of coaching, managing, teams and cooperation. We don't often think of the good, old-fashioned word "leadership." But, as was pointed out in this spring's PlantSuccess meeting in Houston, it is leadership that defines the culture of a company and keeps the company from ignoring its better nature.

We legally regard corporations as actual persons. This legal fiction is both good and not so good. The not-so-good part is that corporations have no moral or ethical sense. It is up to the officers and directors of the corporation to provide that sense of right and wrong all the way down the management chain, so the corporation will be a good "person" and a good corporate citizen.

This type of leadership has everything to do with safety, security and the management of risk.

If management is clearly devoted to the concept that safety is free and that high reliability, safety and security equals increased profit, companies will behave in a safe, secure way. If the leadership of a company believes that the most important thing is to squeeze every dollar out of the process plants, it will behave in a way that is certain to include directives to cut corners, defer maintenance and keep running with band-aids, string, chewing gum and duct tape. And, sooner or later, something has to blow.

We've been seeing this now for almost 100 years.

The attendees at the recent PlantSuccess Plant Management Forum were united in their belief that it is individual leadership at the highest management levels that gives managers and supervisors the guidance they need to act safely, securely and manage risk appropriately.

One of the participants insisted that leaders are force multipliers. Another said that leaders are like a good point guard on a basketball team. Leadership, they said, is bold. Managers don't take risks. Leaders do. Leaders are willing to quit and work somewhere else if they don't believe in the values being practiced by their company.

Leaders, in my opinion, are not born. They are made in a nurturing environment, first in school, then in the companies they work for. Companies that reward leadership have higher profits than companies that reward keeping your head down and doing what the boss says.

But, like a good point guard, good leaders know that leadership isn't about giving orders. It is about being an exemplar—living what you believe in, and showing how to behave in a safe and secure way.

Many companies do not reward that kind of leadership. Managers displaying it are labeled "rogues" and "troublemakers." Well, it's time for this to change.

If we expect to revitalize manufacturing, we're going to have to start at the top. Top leadership—note I did not say "management"—must be personally and individually dedicated to the proposition that the company they lead will always act in a moral and ethical manner. Why? Because this changes the way they, as leaders, behave. If they are constrained by their own moral compass to act in certain ways, they will only act in those ways. If their focus is on the safety and security of the enterprise all the way down to the person in the gatehouse at the the plant entrance, the decisions they make will be colored by that focus. And, of course, if they aren't—not so much.

Does your company raise, train and nurture leaders? If not, maybe you should consider going to one that does.
Remember, as one of the PlantSuccess participants said, "It all comes back to the fact that  we want everyone to go home safe."