I think it’s important to get two things straight before we hop into the topic of leadership, and leading. First, I do not claim to be a great leader, I don’t even claim to be a really good leader. I’m a better leader than I was when I took a leadership role 20 months ago, and I try to get better every single day. Second, my fiancé is smarter than me… by a lot.
I mention this because nearly every positive aspect of leadership I’ve incorporated over the past 20 months has been a direct result of conversations with my future wife. We work in vastly different fields. She works with children (and subsequently, lots and lots of parents). I (try to) keep a shift of machinists running efficiently and generally happy. That said, I’m going to touch on three things that I learned from her, and how they changed the way I attempt to lead.
- Finding the big picture – This has easily been the most difficult for me. Machinists spend 40+ hours a week trying to maintain pin point focus on very tiny increments. We listen intently for fluctuations in cutting noises, make adjustments in the ten thousandths of an inch, and generally spend our time worrying only about the task in front of us and what is being done to help us succeed.
I remember early on in my new role coming home and griping about the way something was/wasn’t getting done. She firmly reminded me that I wasn’t considering the big picture and how the change that one of my 2nd shifters wanted might look simple in my mind but not actually be that simple at all. Being able to step back and look at all the moving pieces that go into making a company function, being able to take a deep breath and realize that there are more answers to a problem than likely jump out at first glance, and acknowledging that there are many other aspects to your company than just your crew (and eventually being able to identify and understand them) has been the hardest, but most rewarding lesson of my first 20 months leading this shift.
- Listening to the Unspoken – I vividly remember the first time a member of my crew blew up at me. I made a call that they didn’t agree with and they let me know with an artistically worded tirade that made the writer in me proud. However, I didn’t understand it at all. It was a simple call. It made sense. This man was normally so logical and easy going that I was completely taken aback. So, while recounting my day, I mentioned the incident to the aforementioned fiancé.
She asked me if I’d made an effort to return later in the day to discuss what was wrong. It turns out that sometimes when people lash out or overreact to something it actually has nothing to do with the matter at hand. I understand that she learned this very early in working with kids. I learned it from her. As is often (always) the case, she was right. I came into work that next day and asked the man what was going on, and it turns out there was a lot of stuff going on. Most of the issues had nothing to do with work, however, being able to identify that ahead of time would have went a long way to building our team and communication level.
- Actually caring (and showing it) – The big picture lesson was difficult and took time to begin to see and adopt as a factor in how I approach things. Listening to the unspoken was a little easier to implement given my first goal on accepting a leadership role was to improve the communication on my shift, across other shifts, and throughout the company. The next lesson I didn’t so much learn from my fiancé but I definitely better learned how to apply it and use it positively.
It is very much in my nature to care. Nearly every person I work with cares about their job in so much as it is their job, it’s how the bills get paid or the beers get bought. The fiancé taught to me how to better apply that caring to fostering the growth of our 2nd shift team, and eventually, across shifts and into the office side. By really making an effort to show that you care about the people you work with it is possible you will slowly, eventually, start to gain some of their respect. Don’t be afraid to go to bat for your people. Fight for your crew when they deserve it. Be honest with each of them about the why and how when you can’t implement their suggestions or make the changes they desire. Make a concerted effort to stop and listen to their problems, especially when it feels minor or trivial to you (it feels important to them, if they’re bringing it up to you).
While this is a very simple little introduction to some of the lessons I’ve learned in my 20 months as a team lead, I feel like these might easily be the 3 most important ones as far as transitioning into a team lead role. Machinists aren’t generally big picture types, at least as far as it applies to our jobs. Taking a “crew” and caring enough to be honest with them, fight for them, and get to the point where you feel comfortable calling them “my crew” has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time here, and moreover, my working career in general. Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask your significant other for advice, especially if they’re even half as intelligent as my fiancé.
-Travis Miller is the 2nd shift Team Lead. He and his fiancé recently got a puppy. It turns out that neither of them knows how to lead a puppy… at all. They are both very tired.