Thursday, April 13, 2017

Early Career Lessons

Early in my career as a new Assistant QC Manager (back in the day when we still euphemistically referred to that support function as Quality Control), the president of the Fortune 500 company for which I worked came from the East Coast to our plant. He toured for the afternoon and had a meeting with the staff. That night he had a dinner meeting with all of the staff and the next supervisory tier of the organization, of which I was a part. I had been with the company for 6 months at that time.

After dinner, the president stood up and gave a little speech. I don’t remember all that he said except that quality was very important to the future of the company. After his speech, he asked for questions. I raised my hand and asked, “I appreciate your comments about the importance of quality. One of the things I’ve noticed is that we have high turnover in our department. We have a hard time fully supporting production and engineering because we’re constantly training new technicians. The main reason most people leave the department is because QC is paid the lowest wages in the production area. Can we look at increasing the wages in order to reduce the turnover?”

By this time, the plant manager had turned around in his seat, glaring at me. My immediate boss, the QC Manager, was a woman, also glaring at me. The president looked directly at me and asked, “What is your name?” I began thinking that this was a very short career at this company. (A few months later, when I was promoted to head the department, I didn’t order business cards for the first year because my predecessors had an average tenure of 9 months. I thrived in the position for 3.5 years before leaving for another company in another part of the country.) After telling him my name, he replied, “Scott, you raise an interesting point. I would be glad to look at your recommendation if you’re willing to do some research into the issue.”

I had grown up on Air Force bases, watching from a child’s and adolescent’s viewpoint some of the best of military leadership. This incident with the Fortune 500 president taught me several lessons about business leadership.

Can you guess what they were, from the brief encounter?

I learned that good business leadership creates a culture that provides the environment for honest sharing of data and open to new ideas.

I learned that good business leadership invites collaboration. In the situation above, I had to work with others to get the right information and put together a good analysis.

Good business leadership understands that nothing operates in a vacuum and that a policy of pay in one department can affect the overall company results.

Excerpt from "PhD in Leadership: What They Don't Teach You in Business Schools"

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