Leadership Begins With You

A reader wrote last month in regard to my comments trying to stir up some leadership in manufacturing in the face of continued outsourcing to places like China.

“That’s my theme for this year,” he says. “The Japanese forced the United States to build a quality automobile, hopefully the Chinese can force the United States to do a better job at manufacturing.”

The reader continued, “The playing field isn’t level, but doing nothing but complaining isn’t a good answer, either.” Did you ever hear that there are two types of people? Those who do nothing but complain, and those who are too busy fixing things to complain.

What if we had product-oriented managers and engineers running manufacturing again instead of financiers? I think in that case, there would be more attention placed on product quality and fixing problems rather than the quick fixes we see. Too often, managers at the top are rewarded for cutting the guts out of the company in order to show a quick profit or stock price bounce.

Since we don’t want to be in that group of complainers, what can we do? Leadership begins with you. No matter what position you have within an organization, you can exert leadership. To be a leader, you must have an idea about what can be done to improve business short of putting large numbers of people on the unemployment line.

Do you ever just spend some concentrated time thinking about improvements? The February 2004 issue of Technology Review features the “10 Emerging Technologies That Will Change Your World.” Editor-in-chief Robert Buderi interviewed several of the innovators whose work was featured in the article and asked them how they did their best thinking. Several noted that commuting time was a quiet time of solitude when they could just think.

First, then, I’d recommend finding a way to find some quiet time every day for about a half-hour to think through ideas. Don’t just skip from one thing to another, but ponder an idea. Turn it around in your mind. Consider the good points, then the bad. What would be the consequences of implementation? What could change to make a better consequence?

I have enjoyed many conversations about the future of technology in manufacturing with Opto 22’s (www.opto22.com) Director of Technical Marketing, Benson Hougland. He, along with Opto Vice President Bob Sheffres and marketing communication manager David Crump visited our offices last month to discuss where that company is headed. While still firmly rooted in manufacturing, they see a way to think outside the box by marrying cellular telephone technology with the industrial input/output devices that they manufacture. Called M2M (for machine-to-machine) by the cell phone manufacturers, this really looks like a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system over a different network. Amazingly, putting these technologies together creates opportunities for entirely new markets.

Perhaps validating the idea of M2M for manufacturing, ABB (www.abb.com) issued a press release saying that its M2M will be a featured technology this year. The release was kind of a teaser, but look for additional M2M coverage in AW this year.

I can think of one more way to broaden your horizons, polish your leadership skills and contribute to our industry. Participate in standards organizations. Several articles this month discuss the Open Modular Architecture Control working groups (OMAC). Check out www.omac.org, look for a group whose efforts complement what you are working on and volunteer to help out. The Standards Center article this month discusses some of the work of the ISA SP99 committee that is working on security best practices. The committee chair’s e-mail address is included. This is another opportunity to serve.

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