Reinvigorate Manufacturing: Leadership in Perilous Times

So you can understand that in a state suffering disaster the wise man has the opportunity to show an influential presence. Therefore, according to the disposition of the state and the liberty Fortune allows us, we shall either extend or contract our activities; but at all events we shall stir ourselves and not be gripped and paralyzed by fear. He indeed will prove a man who, threatened by dangers on all sides, with arms and chains clattering around him, will neither endanger nor conceal his courage: for self-preservation does not entail suppressing oneself.-Seneca, “On Tranquility of Mind”

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We have not had a need for leadership for years as much as we need it now in this downturn. We need strength and vision to get manufacturing companies on the winning road again and not be paralyzed by fear. If you are a reader of Automation World, then odds are that you are a leader—and leaders are learners.

Reading as much as possible is a great way to learn. Another way to learn is through travel—despite the current travel restrictions imposed by many companies—especially to conferences, forums and training events. I’m writing this column at the Rockwell Software annual technical education event. Two outstanding speakers at RSTechEd shared powerful insights about leadership, business and life. Mike Eruzione captained the U.S. Olympic Ice Hockey team in 1980, immortalized as “The Miracle on Ice.” His story about how a group of college kids came together to take on the world’s best “almost” pro players and win Olympic gold pointed to characteristics that we can all use to improve our businesses and our lives.

Eruzione identified four keys to success derived from the experience of that hockey team as they came together as a team and then learned how to play the international game, something different from North American hockey. Some believe success comes from luck and/or skill. While you must have and develop relevant skills, hard work is the characteristic that enables people of less skill to succeed over those with great skill who do not work as hard.

Pride in yourself and team, respect for others and traditional values round out the list of characteristics Eruzione derived from that great experience. Have you surrounded yourself with people that you respect and have pride in? If not, is the problem them—or you? And check your values—such things as honesty, faithfulness and humbleness.

Technology’s important

Another speaker at RSTechEd was Harvard Business School professor and author of the forthcoming book “Enterprise 2.0,” Andrew McAfee. Among other degrees, he earned a Masters in Electrical Engineering and a Doctorate in Business. He researches the role of information technology (IT) in business. The basis of his research was developed from the work of paleontologist Steven Jay Gould, who investigated why there have been no .400 hitters in Major League Baseball since Ted Williams in 1941. He said you should not graph the mean batting averages of all hitters over time only. Meaning comes from graphing the deviation from mean of the top performers.

McAfee and his colleagues did just that, graphing the performance of top companies vs. the mean. Then they correlated spending on IT of the top performers vs. the rest. There exists a statistically significant deviation from the mean for spending on IT by top performing companies—they make that investment. Top performing companies invested in technology. That’s another form of leadership—making the right investments when others aren’t.

You can learn leadership everywhere, and practice it in every organization you touch. Let’s practice it in our jobs, too, and reinvigorate manufacturing as a contributor to the well being of the country.

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