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Maximizing Leadership Moments in Manufacturing


Tue Sep 17 2019

Maximizing Leadership Moments in Manufacturing

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Jessica Strezpek and I recently hosted a webinar in partnership with ATD where we discussed leadership moments, how they mold our future workplaces, and how they play in to the future of the manufacturing industry.

A leadership moment occurs when an employee interacts or could interact with one or more people to mobilize them in taking some action the employee needs to achieve her objectives, now or in the future.


They are the catalyst for transformational change in our organizations, and it’s not just about one moment in particular. It’s about the accumulation of these moments over time to make a very intentional change for the future.

If we reserve the opportunity for change and development only for a select few, we’re missing the opportunity for transformational change. We need to help all employees build on their foundational leadership skills like trust, communication, and adaptability so they have the capability to influence others and take advantage of each moment.

The Next Generation: Manufacturing 4.0

The next generation is now the majority of our manufacturing organizations, with Gen Z entering the workforce now. By 2025, 75 percent of the workforce will have been born after 1980.

Up until recently, our workplaces were reflective of the Baby Boomer generation. We’re moving to an evolution of manufacturing, an evolution of leadership, and the evolution of the workforce as a whole.

We must ask ourselves: What can we provide this new generation to ensure that they have the influence and skills needed for the future of this industry? This evolution gives us the opportunity to really think about how we prepare the next generation leaders, how we develop their skills, so they can take advantage of leadership moments.


Right now, many of our organizations are in between that 2nd and 3rd phase of manufacturing’s evolution. Those focused on emerging technologies, are pioneering the movement from the 3rd to 4th generation of manufacturing. Our new generation of leaders will be the ones who move us through the 4th evolution of manufacturing. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to prepare them with strong leadership skills.

Reskilling for the Future

To be successful through the evolution of manufacturing, leaders and teams need to be collaborative, innovative, and responsive to disruptive change.

Right now, we’re looking at people mang more decisions, thinking more systemically, and being more creative. Many people in the industry have trouble with that creative piece—how can we be creative when there are processes that are typically cut and dry? The creativity lies in this: no, we cannot change how we assemble a plane part, for example, but we can think creatively and collaboratively about how we upgrade the process of assembling that part.

Here is a quick look at some of the leadership skills needed to be successful in evolution of manufacturing:

  • quickly establishing and maintaining trust with all stakeholders

  • collaborating up, down, and across the organization

  • offering and asking for feedback

  • enabling intrinsic motivation in others

  • rewarding behavior

  • being able to influence behavior without positional authority.

To get there, we have to start with analysis. Take a look at the state of your own organization. Are you transitioning from 3.0 to 4.0? Are you earlier in the timeline, maybe 2.0 to 3.0? What challenges are you facing? What do leadership moments look like and what kind of skills do we need to address them?


Essentially, in order to create a strong leadership foundation in your company for the future, you have to prepare all employees of today. They will influence the nature of your evolution.

Transforming How We Think About Leadership

The new machinery and processes being introduced on the line have exacerbated the need for a reskilling in terms interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence to work in concert with new tech. Additionally, there is a very common phenomena in the industry where younger members of the organizations feel more inclined to lead because they feel they do not have the opportunity to grow.

It’s time to show employees that 1) we are committed to developing their skills and 2) we are ready and able to provide them with skills that will serve them in navigating the challenges of the future and influencing change.

Here’s how to take a new approach:

  • Start with existing leaders. Your current leaders (even Millennials) need to shift their thinking on leadership to reflect fresh and transformative behaviors rather than forcing outdated ideologies to work on updated systems. Teach them to effectively listen and give feedback, and encourage them to build trust-based environments. They should serve as the soft skills standard for their respective teams.

  • Make leadership development available to all. Organizations often focus their time, money, and resources on a smaller subset of leadership. In today’s landscape, it’s more important to develop soft skill leadership behaviors from moment one. We can do this by democratizing leadership and giving leaders the tools they need in those leadership moments. And the cherry on top is that demonstrating a commitment to ongoing professional development is sure to result in increasing retention rates in your organization.

  • Engage everyone in problem solving. The traditional model of knowledge transfer may serve its purpose for repetitive hard skills, but soft skills are a totally different game. For soft skills, a multi-modal approach is needed. We learn the nuances of things like humility and pragmatic planning from experience. Inviting all members of the team to the table will allow a collaborative thought process, and how they can adapt as things change.

We are recognizing that technology is changing, that manufacturing is changing, but we still need to invest in our leaders. Leadership moments are only going to increase. We need to prepare everyone for facing them and shaping the future.

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