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Legendary Leadership Blueprint for Manufacturers

03 February, 2023

The leadership of yesterday is not working for tomorrow's generation. How can leadership evolve and progress to meet the needs in manufacturing and that of its workforce? Management coach David Roppo hosts the chat on leadership in manufacturing for the #USAMfgHour chat on Twitter.


Money, power, territory, high-rise buildings, a timeless product ? these might be the results of a successful manufacturing company. Yet, a company's success is said to only be as good as its leadership. What is required of a great leader? How does a leader's greatness translate into a company's success? 

"Legendary leaders are only born when book smarts are fused with people smarts, business savvy is joined at the hip with interpersonal savvy, intelligence is introduced to its other half, wisdom, and fear has me its match ? courage," said David Roppo, a leadership, and front-line management training expert and consultant. He leads the discussion on leadership in manufacturing for the #USAMfgHour chat on Twitter.

Learning to Lead

What are the biggest challenges manufacturers will face in the 21st century?

"Handling growth and doing it at the speed it needs to be done. We need people to join the manufacturing force and to keep talking about it to help recruit them," said Dan Bigger of Chenango Valley Technologies in New York.

"Labor," said JD Allen of Cleveland Deburring in Ohio.

"The issue across the board w/ manufacturers seems to be workforce development. We need to get the younger generations interested in manufacturing so that we can usher in a new workforce with fresh blood and new energy," said NJMEP.org in New Jersey.

"We're seeing trends in domestic and global compliance, safety protocol, and efficiency-boosting to keep up with demand," said Christine Torres of Duralabel in Oregon.

"Small business manufacturers will struggle to compete with newer hardware startups if they don't digitally innovate and modernize their processes," said Sam Gupta of ElevatIQ in New York.

"Growth, technology, how to keep up with both. Recruitment of people to work in this industry," said Shannon Simpson of DuraTech Industries in Ohio.

"It might help if manufacturers could get into HS and encourage students to get into the trades. Educate them on the benefits vs going to college," said BuyDirect USA in Missouri.

"Finding great employees, sourcing raw materials, and transitioning from a carbon-based economy to hydrogen. Solutions come from automated processes and robotics, recycling, and innovation of power sources," said Nigel T. Packer of PelaTis in Wales, UK.

"I think that the skills gap is starting to show. We're losing people to retirement and no one is there to take their places," said Rebecca Hart of Drive Source International/Dynamatic in Wisconsin.

"Hard question for me to answer, but from my research and conversations with manufacturers, I'd say:
A. Staffing and the skills gap
B. Adapting to new technology
C. Avoiding commodity selling
D. Passing on the torch to new generations and exiting," said Paul Kiesche of Aviate Creative in New Jersey.

"I think the biggest hurdle will be closing the skilled trades gap that exists right now. Finding ways to attract and keep the younger generation will be key to maintain product quality and turnaround times," said Ben Nordman of Obsidian Manufacturing in Illinois.

Employee turnover has increased by 88% since 2010 & is expected to hit 35% by 2023, according to Roppo. "In 2019, 7 in 10 manufacturers reported labor shortages. Over 2 million jobs will be unfilled through 2030. Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies over $350 billion annually," he said.

How has mainstream leadership development failed to prepare leaders and equip them with the skills to overcome the challenges of the 21st century?

"I think somehow many people sort of fell asleep at the wheel. We unfortunately also lost many jobs overseas and reversing that is also going to be challenging," said Kirsten Austin of DCSC in Missouri.

"I think EQ has been underappreciated when developing leaders in the past. It seems to be improving, but it will need to greatly to be able to manage the current and future generations of labor," said Cleveland Deburring.

"It is a combo of things. With turnover so high, they just are not trained. This puts people in roles that they are not right or prepared for. This then leads to more turnover in the industry," said CVT.

"Not looking ahead or watching the trends. Only working in the present. Not listening. not planning for the future," said DuraTech.

"Perhaps it has had the wrong focus? (I am just guessing here.)," said DSI/Dynamatic.

"Manufacturing organizations are still very top-down leadership with extremely siloed culture. The new leadership requires a culture of transparency, digital traceability, and open communication," said Gupta.

"Partly from a culture of not helping people get ahead out of fear they would get their job taken away or be replaced," said Duralabel.

"That is just short-sighted but true. We are all a team, and we need to get rid of that mentality," said CVT.

"I would have to say lack of forward-thinking. Development should be a constant process taking place, but I think it has been lacking and has been focusing on strictly present day," said Obsidian.

"As humans, we need food, water, shelter, and security. Everything else is glitz. Leadership in the 21st century is focused on the glitz. We need to get back to focusing on primary needs. Everything else will come from that," said Packer.

"Most leadership development is competency-based & lacks personal development, behavioral science, and organizational dynamics," said Roppo. "This produces superficial & temporary changes in behavior and often, unwittingly, becomes a self-absorbed exercise."

How has the conventional top-down leadership model failed to help leaders retain happy, productive, & loyal employees?

"Today's workers want to know why they do what they do. While compensation is a key factor, what is more, important is to be inclusive in decision-making and collaborative culture as opposed to taking a top-down approach," said Gupta.

"Top-down leadership is a dictatorship. We all work hard and take pride in what we do. We'd like to be heard as we all have something to offer. Listening helps retain those that want to have more skin in the game. It also costs nothing, zero, zip, nada," said CVT.

Leadership works alongside workers to help propel business, not dictating from the top looking down, DSI/Dynamatic said via a nice graphic.

"With this, I think a lot of times having a single leader suppresses other hard-working and talented individuals with the incorrect people in power. Feeling as though you have a voice and are heard as an employee is crucial in keeping workers," said Obsidian.

"The mood of the CEO can affect the productivity of a company. Instead of being isolated from their employees, they should get out into the workspace to know them. Small family businesses are closer to the workforce," said Packer.

"The way I was trained to lead is to train my way out of a job! Top-down leadership suggests that the farther away from the leader - the less important the person," said Nick Rivers of Obsidian.

"Maybe they failed to retain employees by: 

  • not defining career paths 
  • not staying competitive with wages & benefits 
  • having a poor company culture & value 
  • Getting more outdated & irrelevant with their brands. 
  • Not improving the perception of the industry," said Kiesche.

"Is there a trend in cutting training time and/ or programs? Cutting benefits? Lower Salaries? Just guessing," said DuraTech.

"Top-down leadership isolates leaders at the top of their companies, causes insularity, & disconnects leaders from employees. This leads to disengagement, decreased productivity, & high turnover," said Roppo.

Changing the Culture

What can leaders in manufacturing do to become more engaged/involved, and reconnect with employees?

"First thing is to listen to the employees and at the very least consider the feedback they give you. I also think leading through actions is huge. People can say whatever they want, but not doing what you say makes people turn on leaders," said Obsidian.

"Here is as simple as it gets, TALK TO THEM. Learn about them, their families, and get feedback from them. It is absolutely the easiest thing in the world to do. The payback will be 1000-fold," said CVT.

"Be the leader. Show by behavior. Get there before anyone else. Leave after everyone else. Teach not preach. Listen more. Get amid the work with them when you can. Show that you know how to do their job, not just act like it," said DuraTech.

"Try more transparency, honesty & openness with employees. Listen & be open to ideas. Get involved in what they do. Trust & give more responsibility & ownership of work. Create genuine engagement & team activities. Establish core values together," said Kiesche.

"Get to their level. Learn what they're doing and even do it with them. Ask them questions. Involve them in projects that aren't related to their specific job. Build on their strengths," said DSI/Dynamatic.

"I want to see the "human" in the leader. Social Gatherings, Company Sponsored Events, Company Supported Volunteer Opportunities and even PIZZA Fridays with a long lunch or.. things of that nature," said Rivers.

"Take an interest in them. The company would not exist without them and if you want to keep good employees then you have to treat them with the same reverence as your customers. A pat on the back is cheaper than a pay rise," said Packer.

"Emphasize teamwork. It's made huge changes in our company culture," said Monofrax in New York.

"Implement a 21st-century framework (The Legendary Leadership Model) to reconnect with frontline employees, build a culture of caring, create a central chain of communication, & foster company-wide collaboration," said Roppo.

What can manufacturing leaders do to significantly reduce turnover, increase engagement, & accelerate productivity?

"Now that is a loaded question. Wowza. I don't think there are enough stars for this answer," said DSI/Dynamatic.

"Be the leader you want to work for. We all can probably remember leaders that did not motivate us very well and our productivity lacked because of that. Putting yourself in other's shoes is always a great skill for that," said Obsidian.

"Simple answer: don't be a jerk, and care about your team. Teach them and be a part of the process and their growth," said CVT.

"Know why your people leave and hire the right people from the start. Balance humanity and business lines. Be flexible and have clear expectations and plans," said Duralabel.

Chat with manufacturers on Twitter - #USAMfgHour

"Keep employees engaged in conversation, make them feel like they're part of the whole, give them purpose, help them with tasks, teach and learn from them, and focus on their strengths. I'm sure there are plenty of other ways, but I only get so many characters," said DSI/Dynamatic.

"Improve accountability of each employee, Hold middle management accountable for the success, growth, happiness of their teams. Improve digital traceability so there is no room for argument. Wherever there is a conversation, there is room for digital improvement," said Gupta.

"Retrain and reskill frontline managers," said Roppo. "They interact with employees daily & are responsible for a 70% variance in engagement. Well-trained & highly skilled frontline managers can reduce turnover by 50% & accelerate productivity by 20%, 30% or more."

Anyone, regardless of experience or natural leadership ability, can overcome the 21st-century challenges, earn 3X the respect, garner 3X the admiration, & achieve 3X the success with the Legendary Leadership Blueprint.

About #USAMfgHour

Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.

Are you interested in hosting a #USAMfgHour chat? Contact organizers @CVTPlastics, @DCSCinc, and @SocialSMktg.