Leadership in Manufacturing

November 17, 2019 Bren de LeeuwBC Lower Mainland 204 Views

Leadership in Manufacturing was the focus of our BC Lower Mainland Peer Networking Event this month!  Roundtable discussion embodied everything from roles and responsibilities, to leadership attributes, to engaging and developing our talent, and how we as Leaders can help those following in our footsteps to be better equipped to deal with the future of manufacturing!

Very special thanks to our Host – Singer Valve (a division of Mueller Water Products) – designers and manufacturers of automatic control valves for the global water industry.  We had a very interesting overview of their company and learned that they have over 4,100 applications and products that are used worldwide!   In the spirit of best practice, we also had the opportunity to gain insight into their Safety Excellence and Leadership Program (SEAL)! 

In today’s manufacturing environment, leaders are faced with rapidly changing business dynamics. These include increasing difficulties in attracting talent, retaining and engaging teams already in place along with broader issues such as the competitive landscape that continues to stretch beyond our borders. Companies and their leaders need to be as vigilant as they can, responsive to the needs and wants of their respective customers, attendant to opportunities for the future, all while remaining efficient, flexible and adaptable to the various necessities of keeping business viable and successful.

Through the course of our session, those present shared perspectives on what leadership is.  We also talked about people we admire; people who demonstrate such qualities both inside and outside of our organizations.  An interesting conversation rounded out our dialogue as we thought about how to identify and develop talent that will meet the needs of our manufacturing communities in 2020 and beyond.

Participants were asked to consider Leaders seen, met or heard about through education, readings, media or otherwise – and how they embody an attribute that they might admire in that capacity.  Team-oriented, inspirational, having the ability to empower others, a sense of humbleness, doing the right things, and someone who continually seeks answers were just a few of the qualities that surfaced during our conversation as we considered candidates from sports and NASCAR, to Terry Fox, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, famous authors, Navy Commanders, Bank Managers and former CEO’s!  Leadership models surround us and it was really, really interesting to hear examples from all walks of life! 

We built on those initial thoughts and through group discussion looked at what leadership meant to us, what the role entails and the positive attributes a person in this position might possess.  Some examples: 

  • Having a good work ethic
  • Being a team player
  • Excellent communication skills/relatable/empathetic
  • Mentoring/Role Model Capacity
  • Having the ability to follow-through/execute
  • Demonstrating accountability
  • Visionary – planning for the future
  • Having energy and passion that engages and motivates those around them/inspirational
  • Entrepreneurial mindset/Innovative

It was an excellent time to consider our own personal leadership strengths and it was an opportunity to identify personal areas of growth/improvement.  Developing leadership skills is an ongoing process and as such we are constantly evolving, honing our talents, learning from others and the experiences around us, as we continually look at ways to improve our abilities.

A few favourite quotes were shared regarding leadership:

General Norman Schwarzkopf

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character.  But if you must be without one, be without strategy…”

Stanley Huffty

“It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position…”

Tim Elmore, Is Everyone a Leader?

“Even the most introverted individuals influences’ 10,000 other people during their lifetime…”

John C. Maxwell

“Over course of the day most people influence at least four others…”

Steven Brand,
8 Practical and Effective Manufacturing Leadership Tips

“Good leaders strive for new knowledge and have the ability to adopt and implement those ideas. They are able to keep an open mind, study failures and successes and prioritize growth. By showcasing flexibility, you can engage and inspire your staff at every level and be a stronger manufacturing leader…”

John C. Maxwell

“Successful leaders are learners and the learning process is ongoing.  A result of self-discipline and perseverance”


Discussion followed to touch on how we are engaging our teams. Participants were asked to consider how, as Leaders, one is able to develop, connect and motivate people within an organization.  We talked about the importance of ongoing communication, keeping people involved and reducing resistance to change.  Company representatives shared their initiatives with daily/weekly information sessions, team lunches, and presentations, town hall meetings and materials that explained how the corporate vision translates into their specific roles within the organization.  We talked about the importance of keeping people “in on things” and helping people understand the need for change and how it can lead to improvement.  Finding projects that can help build excitement for the next initiative, the importance of empowering future leaders, and providing the necessary tools to succeed are all important.

In emphasizing the importance of communication, a passage was shared from a recent newsletter by Mike Kerr, from Humour at Work, emphasizing the power of conversation and along with staggering statistics he found referenced in a Forbes article:

Michael Kerr,

Humour at Work

If you want to strengthen your culture, have more conversations. Yet another study referenced in a Forbes article highlights the importance of one-on-one conversations between employees and managers. The study found that well-led, regular one-on-one conversations resulted in a:

432% increase in the odds that an employee has a strong sense of leadership;

226% increase in terms of how employees rate their overall employee experience;

430% increase in the odds that an employee will be highly engaged.

If you're a leader, make one-on-one conversations a priority. If you're an employee, insist on them. Consider this approach for a simple conversation framework, where both parties answer the following three questions:

  • What's working well for you right now?
  • What's not working well?
  • What can I do to help you?


With communication still in mind, we explored the concept of helping people relax through humour at work.  Studies have shown that humour can bring a sense of comfort and balance and can inspire us to be more creative.

We can also engage our teams through on the job training, lean coaching, team-building and problem-solving skill development.  We can help team members and Front-Line Managers understand the need for change and how it can make things better.  This all leads to an opportunity to gain valued input and creative ideas, subsequently ensuring those changes come to fruition.

From the training perspective, I mentioned that EMC has a number of programs available including Workshops on:
* The Practice of Leadership
* Trust, Teamwork and High Performance
* Lean Supervisor
* Leadership Skills and Management Styles
* Effective Problem Solving
* Harvard Supervisory Program
* MEC (Manufactures Essential Certification)

The role of the Leader is continually changing to meet the dynamics of our world at large.  For example, what we expected from a Front-Line Supervisor 100 years ago is not what we would expect in today’s environment.  Looking forward, participants were asked what their leadership pipeline looks like and how are they identifying and developing the next generation of leaders.

It was agreed that, as Leaders, we need to continually provide an opportunity for our talent to grow and learn.  We talked about identifying candidates through core competencies and engagement on special projects, in watching for people who demonstrate leadership attributes, or who expose themselves in a way that lends credence to their potential. 

In terms of support, ongoing mentoring and coaching along with collaborative opportunities allowing a person to grow and develop their strengths and passions can be most beneficial.       

Our final conversation looked at how can we help tomorrow’s leaders find success – what will they need?  They will need to be prepared for and anticipate change in every facet of our industry as a whole - from people, planet and process.  They will need to be adaptable, agile and flexible – ready for the unknown and constantly reinventing themselves.   Talent management, ongoing growth, innovation and automation will continue to demand attention. 

There are many who say that Leadership is a lifelong learning process – requiring commitment and ongoing perseverance.  Savour the lessons available through books, tapes, seminars, quotes and experiences of others.  What steps are you taking to grow yourself as a Leader?


Next Event:

Please mark your calendars for our next Peer Networking Event – the details follow below:




Best Practice:  Manufacturing Excellence Program


Mauser Packaging Solutions
5850 272nd Street, Langley, BC


Very special thanks to all of our EMC Members and Guests for participating in this months’ Roundtable and to our Host, Singer Valve (a division of Mueller Water Products) for the warm welcome, wonderful overview of their company, current Health and Safety initiatives, and a fabulous plant tour as well!

All the best as always!


Bren de Leeuw, Western Canada Operations
Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium - - 519-372-6009