Who doesn’t love feeling like a superhero?! As a leader in the manufacturing industry, it feels great to be able to swoop in to solve a problem, offer a new solution, and get productive results. However, your team doesn’t always need a superhero. Oftentimes, what they need is an empathetic, curious leader who focus on the root of the problem, rather than just coming in to offer solutions.

To be a super leader without acting like a superhero, it’s all about changing your behavior!

When Great Skills Aren’t Enough

When I think about the importance of changing and analyzing your behavior, I think of “Carl,” a manager at a manufacturing plant where I coached. Carl was definitely super skilled! Thanks to his specialized skills and knowledge of a certain type of equipment, another plant in a different state asked him to come help them. He accepted, thinking it would be a simple job.

Once Carl arrived at the new plant, he was met with some defensiveness from the team. They didn’t like having someone come in to put out their problems and tell them what to do. Even though Carl offered solutions, they wouldn’t listen or take the steps he suggested to fix their equipment. Sometimes, they’d even say they fixed an issue, only for Carl to discover later than they hadn’t done what he told them to do.

This created an unpleasant environment for everyone. For Carl, it led to a lot of frustration. Why wasn’t the team listening, even though he felt like he’d told them a million times what to do? Did they just not understand? Were they ignoring him on purpose? If no one was listening, should he give up and go back to his plant?

Even though Carl had awesome skills, his leadership wasn’t showing through his behavior. To solve the conflict with the team, he had to shift his approach.

Step One: Empathy
The first step was empathy. While he was focused on telling the team about their problems, he didn’t understand how it made them feel. He hadn’t considered their perspective, or realized they might not like someone telling them they were wrong. By changing his mindset to consider their emotions, Carl has able to approach the problem with more empathy. He expressed that he knew they were in a hard position and showed that he really cared about working together to fix the issues. He was able to show appreciation for their efforts and build better trust with the team.

Step Two: Curiosity
Next, Carl changed his mindset to include more curiosity. Instead of telling others how to do things, he shifted to asking questions.

  • What did the team want to do?
  • What did they think the problem was?
  • Did the team have any solutions for getting over their hurdlers?
  • If they were feeling defensive, why did they feel that way?

By asking genuine questions like these, he was able to get to the heart of the problems.

The Power of Showing Up

Once Carl brought empathy and curiosity to the manufacturing floor, it changed everything. The team was able to express their perspective and began to respond better to Carl’s leadership. At the same time, Carl developed new skills as a leader. In particular, he learned an important lesson: even though he had good skills and good intentions, it didn’t solve problems. Instead, real change occurred because he was humble enough to look at his own behavior and change his perspective.
Carl’s story shows it’s not always about having superpowers! By bringing more empathy and curiosity to the manufacturing floor, any leader can bring powerful, positive change to their entire organization.

At Manufacturing Greatness, Trevor Blondeel works with manufacturers to connect the top to the shop floor. If you’re ready to improve your own organization, contact Trevor to learn how Manufacturing Greatness can help you build stronger leaders and develop a dynamic, high-performing workplace.