I was looking back through a paper I wrote for one of my master’s classes in communication and leadership specifically on dysfunctional leadership.

While the paper was not specific to any one industry, I started to think of the applications the research would have in the manufacturing field. Then, I ran across a study done by Gallup not long ago about company mission statements and their impact on the factory floor … or lack thereof … and it kind of came together for me.

Employees in any industry have the expectation of being treated fairly and justly in the workplace. But, there are instances where organizations or departments within companies experience poor leadership that can lead to dysfunction in a work environment and the manufacturing industry is no different. Researchers have found various patterns and rationales for this “toxic” leadership in the workplace.

Whether it is because of incompetence, egotism or an autocratic sense of leadership, poor leadership can root its ugly head in a wide range of organizations.

Gallup’s research found that companies spend a great deal of time on mission statements. While this is an important part of the overall company culture, they found those mission statements don’t resonate that much with factory floor workers. In fact, their study found that the percentage of manufacturing and construction workers that actually agree with a company mission statement is 10 percentage points lower than U.S. workers as a whole.

But, does that mean workers simply don’t care about the company mission? In short, no. But, the key is manufacturing leaders have to get to the heart of what really matters to their employees. Things like:

  • Making a good living

  • Community contributions

  • Community impact

  • Employee satisfaction

It is those qualities that a good manufacturing leader can use to craft a culture employees from the front office to the factory floor can truly get behind.

It is also incumbent upon companies to first understand what makes good leaders before impressing upon them to develop that sound message that employees find beneficial. Essentially, find the good leader and the employees will follow the message. Here are a few qualities to look at:

Self-Esteem

Research suggests a leader’s self-esteem has a direct correlation to their ability to actually lead a team. Those who have a high self-esteem tend to have a more positive view of themselves thus can instill that view upon those working for and with them. Conversely, leaders who have less self-confidence tend to place decision-making on others, rather than themselves, making them submissive leaders.

Good leaders with high self-esteem can be strong enough to evoke employee compliance without question while those with lower self-esteem struggle with demands or constraints, which dealing with both can show the effectiveness of an individual as a leader.

Ethics and morals

The moral compass of a leader and the ability to adhere to a code of ethics is another important factor in determining whether a leader is a good one or not.

Using manipulation of others for their own benefit or failing to see the inherent connection between actions and outcomes can also find leaders making poor and unethical decisions in the workplace.

Employee behavior should be influenced by guidance provided by their workplace. In manufacturing, as with many industries, if leadership keeps its focus strictly on the bottom line of the organization, with little to no concern paid to ethical concerns, unethical patterns will emerge and rear their ugly heads.

Weak or non-leadership can lead to employees making decisions based more on self-interest and less on organizational ethics. Even in manufacturing, it is important to keep an analytical state of mind for leaders. Using plant floor analysis when making decisions and relying less on emotion can project an interest that leads to more ethical decision-making.

Incompetence

While you can have all the confidence, self-esteem and moral fortitude, those traits cannot make up for a lack of knowledge for the job of which a leader is tasked. Even perceived incompetence can lead to poor employee management, job satisfaction and the morale of the team.

Expertise is proven to be a strong source of power within a team. While the “fake it until you make it” mantra may work over a period, that period is short. Over the course of time, perception of the leader’s expertise will be put to the test. Leaders who show proficiency in their profession will show they can make good decisions, solve problems and complete challenging tasks. This is even more prominent in manufacturing as plant managers and department heads are faced with challenges on nearly a daily basis. An inability to draw upon expertise to solve those complex problems – especially in today’s more advanced manufacturing workplaces – can lead to productivity loss and plant downtime which has an overall adverse impact on employee morale.

There are many other factors that one may consider in a leader as these are just a few. The personalities of employees are varied and while it is impossible for a single leader to fulfill the expectation of every employee in their charge, it is important for manufacturing managers to understand what is important to their team.

It may not be feasible for a leader to meet every expectation but making the effort to asking each team member what drives them in the workplace should be an essential function of a plant leader. Not doing so may show a lack of understanding or caring that may resonate with an employee’s performance.

Another important step for plant leaders is to encourage participation of their team. Whether it is in community activities or plant operations, make an effort to engage those on the floor. After all, a good leader knows that great ideas can come from anywhere and they aren’t afraid to ask.

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