Hello, My name is Dietmar, and I’m a recovering workaholic.
Ask anyone in the machine shop what to do when a spindle is off balance, and you’ll likely get a straightforward answer. But what about when your manufacturing leadership is off balance? Recently I discussed the challenges of leading a generational family business with Jason, Jim, and my son, Nick, on the MakingChips podcast. That episode will be coming out in the next few weeks.
No matter what stage of your career you’re in, I assure you we all lose our balance at some point.
As President, CEO, and co-owner of Advanced Machine & Engineering Co. and Hennig Inc., I know a thing or two about making chips, and a thing or two about balance.
AME specializes in Machine Tool Design, Workholding Systems, and Metal Cutting Solutions, while Hennig is a global manufacturer of Machine Protection Systems, Chip Conveyors and Filtration Systems, and Machine Enclosures and Facility Safety Equipment. Between these two global manufacturing companies, we have locations in every continent except Antarctica.
Over the years I’ve developed four steps to help me hold it all together. Some rely on instincts, some on business principles, but all of them rely on me, keeping myself accountable for setting the example of good balance from the top down.
1. Provide a Clear Vision to Great People
As the leader, you set the target and you choose the people. I may be the CEO, but I can do very few jobs as well as the person I have in that position. That’s not by accident.
I have to trust myself to communicate a clear vision, which is how I can be sure everyone is aiming at the same target. That’s only half of the equation. The other half is choosing the right people to execute that vision.
When it comes to assembling a strong leadership team, there’s no exact science, however I look always look for these three things:
They have to get it
In other words, do all of the neurons in his or her brain seem to connect when you explain the job? Ask a few questions to gage if he or she ‘gets’ all of the ins and outs of the position.
Don’t worry, not everyone ‘gets it’. It is not a bad thing; he or she just needs to be in a
They have to want it
Does he or she genuinely want to do the job? Sometimes you can tell just by a person’s posture or tone of voice if this is the type of job he or she gets up in the morning wanting to do.
No matter what kind of motivational speaker you are, you can’t pay, force, or beg a person enough to make them want something over the long term. He or she has to want it on their own. It may be frustrating when you see a lack of motivation in a talented person, but sometimes people who ‘get it’ and have the capacity, still just don’t want the job. There’s nothing you can do about that.
They have to have the capacity to do it
Does he or she have the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional capacity to do the job? Sometimes this one is negotiable. While not getting it or wanting it are deal-killers, on occasion a problem of capacity can be solved.
Most growing organizations don’t have the luxury of waiting one-to-three years for an employee to gain the capacity he or she needs to do the job. Most need the seat filled completely, right now. However, if you are willing to invest the time, resources, and energy in a person you believe can gain the capacity, then you might want to do it.
A return on an investment such as this is often worth so much more than just an employee who gets it and wants it, but also one who has immense loyalty toward a company and a leader who took a chance on him or her.
2. Hold Yourself Accountable For A Strong Culture
This is not only a direct quote from our company website, but a part of our story that helps communicate who we are and what we are all about. It’s my job, as CEO, to be the first one responsible for living out the principles and visions of our companies every day of the week. I’m also responsible for holding others accountable to the culture as well.
There’s one thing I know for sure: a one-size-fits all approach to culture won’t work. Each business is a unique organization with different strengths, weaknesses, goals, history, and challenges. Your corporate culture should be like a fingerprint - unmistakably yours and yours alone.
3. Replace Micromanaging and Fixing with Coaching and Auditing
Here is a step-by-step process to making bad decisions:
1. Too much stress leads to--
2. Lack of patience which leads to --
3. Low tolerance for others mistakes which leads to --
4. The need to do it yourself which leads to --
5. Bad, impulsive decisions with serious consequences which leads to --
6. Frustrated leaders and managers
What do frustrated leaders and managers lead to? Stressed out, directionless employees with no confidence in the company or the culture.
Everyone in a leadership role has likely taken a trip down ‘bad decision lane’ at least once. That’s all part of learning. The trouble occurs when you allow yourself to stay in a destructive cycle of micromanaging and trying to fix every little problem yourself. Refer to the process above to check your gut and see if maybe your leadership is off balance right now. It’s never too late to make a change.
Start by asking questions and performing audits. Invest your time into understanding big picture processes and issues as well as possible, then delegate the details to capable managers and allow them to find their own solutions.
Realize that by fixing everything yourself, you’re robbing good, qualified team members from learning and growing in their roles.
Delegating lesser responsibilities is not equivalent to sitting on the bench; it’s assuming the role of Head Coach, making decisions that empower and inspire your team.
4. Protect your Most Important Priorities (Personally and Professionally)
You are the only one who can define your most important priorities. For me, it is putting God first and recognizing He is in control. My faith is at the center of my life and my leadership, which helps me keep my priorities in perspective, no matter the situation. It also helps me extend grace and let some things go that otherwise might offend or distract me.
After God, it’s all about family.
Whether or not you’re a leader within your own family’s business or not, I am sure you can at least imagine some of the common pitfalls, with nepotism being one of the most destructive. However, for me, I work hard to make sure to never let the family business become more about business than family.
There’s a reason AME and Hennig have thrived for so long, and it’s not just because we have quality products, competitive prices, and exceptional service, but because many of us are bound by blood not a paycheck.
Still, don’t misunderstand me. I also never allow family members to fall below the bar. No matter how hard the conversation has to be, in the end, enabling family members will only ruin the family and the business. Then where would we all be?
I can’t tell you what your top priorities should be, but I can assure you that if you don’t know what they are, then your leadership is definitely off balance. Take some time to really think through what is important to you. Here’s a hint: it probably won’t be something with a dollar sign in front of it. Dig deep and think about your legacy.
If you’re already listening to the MakingChips podcast and reading leadership blogs such as this, then I know you’re on the cutting edge of manufacturing leadership. My parting advice is to continue to seek wisdom through counsel. Invest time in finding a strong community of leaders who are willing to both give and take advice.
There’s power in the metalworking nation, and sometimes it’s our friends who notice when we are off balance before we do. Build your network through social media, accept invitations for in-person social opportunities, and serve on the boards of professional and educational organizations.
A person surrounded by strong pillars to lean on is rarely off balance