By George Williams
One can read thousands of books on leadership and maybe even train and practice enough to gain skills which help them influence others or manage people but does that make them a leader? Classes I’ve taken, books I’ve read, and approaches I failed at have all served me well in gaining understanding but to say doing these things can “make” a leader is something else entirely. Many of the folks who lead others are neither in leadership roles or qualified, whatever that means. They are people who think and act genuinely without hesitation because it’s simply who they are at the core.
My 9th grade algebra teacher was asked one day “Why do I need algebra?” by one of the students. Her response was “To pass my class”. A colleague in France once told me his approach to leadership is to allow his people to not only own their work but to own making their work better. A past boss of mine had an amazing ability to simply state the facts, provide vision and expectations, and hold you accountable to them. You never questioned where he stood on topics and always knew what was expected. Another past boss could tell you a story or joke on any topic, any topic. You pick it and he would instantly begin his story telling. Worked with him for years without stumping him and every time he told a story you were engaged. His ability to engage an audience was fascinating. Most of us can tell similar stories and recall people in our lives who influenced who we are today, how we manage, and how we see the world. Were they leaders? What about the person who would tell me to slow down at work because I would make others look bad? Were they a leader? Leadership is a quality perception people have regarding another person’s ability to influence. When I look back, these folks were leaders to me. Perhaps others did not feel the same but to me they were. They gave me valuable life lessons, motivated me to do my best, or even inspired me to “not” be like them.
My biggest influence was my father. He is an amazing man, full of passion and always willing to help, teach, and mentor. As a kid I would work alongside of him and absorb all he said and showed. In high school I was privileged to work with him more directly. He taught me to rebuild an engine, hone cylinders, rebuild a carburetor, and valuable life lessons such as; “If your not sure if it’s oil or transmission fluid, give it a taste. The transmission fluid is sweeter.”. Unfortunately he never told me not to taste the green fluid, which explains a lot. But when it comes down to it, he is a leader. I have a large family. My father left school in 10th grade, had a rough upbringing, served in the military, and was honorably discharged after going blind. He is also a cancer survivor. He never let his struggles stop his progression in life. His work ethic is simply unmatched and he instilled this in me. I owe him more than I could ever repay.
In every case, these leaders were genuine and real. Most folks can spot a fake a mile away. So what qualities do the people who have influenced me possess which make them leaders? Perhaps some psychologist somewhere has the right answer. From my perspective, the only thing that makes these folks leaders is my opinion or the opinion of others. I’ve always said that one can never consider themselves a leader, it is others who get to decide if you are or are not a leader. Their opinion of your leadership capabilities is really the only measuring stick. Your position or title mean nothing. Throughout history we have, at the highest levels of leadership, people who were considered good leaders and those who were regarded as poor leaders. So, if we do not get to decide if we are a leader, what do we get to decide?
Amazingly, we get to decide how to be as a human being. Each day we have the power to choose our attitude. Each day we have the power to decide if we will spend time mentoring someone. Each day we have the power to decide if we will or will not hold ourselves to a higher standard. Looking back at those who were great leaders, what stands out the most for me was the way in which they conducted themselves. A set of values, beliefs, and behaviors which was part of who they were and how they operated daily. The beliefs and behaviors these folks exhibit and live by is what makes them who they are and drives my opinion of their leadership capabilities.
Beliefs and behaviors such as operating with integrity at all times. Ensuring your word means something, that you always behave in alignment with your word, and communicating clearly when you are unable to meet expectations. Ensuring you spend time each day to mentor someone so they might develop into a leader themselves. To choose a great attitude every day. To continually hold yourself and others to a higher standard. All qualities noticed in leaders whom I respect, but are they reliability leaders? What would make them reliability leaders?
The difference between a leader and reliability leader is focused understanding and passion. A good leader can become a reliability leader through education and understanding. It is more challenging for someone who understands reliability to become a leader if they are not already seen as one. Because leadership is determined by the opinion of others we need to ask ourselves what we are doing to influence them positively. In reliability leadership, this is translated into what are we doing to educate, empower, and hold everyone accountable to the reliability of our plant. Not only to provide insight, but live by the values we know to help improve reliability.
My advice is simple. Hold yourself to a higher standard. Make each day better than the previous day. Spend each day with a great attitude, focused on doing the right work aligned with business goals, educating and mentoring others, and operating with the highest integrity and standards. This is our charge. If we do this while focused on reliability does that makes us a reliability leader? Perhaps, but as stated before; It is not for us to decide if we are a leader. It is the opinion of others which decides if you are or are not a leader.
George has a MS in Reliability Engineering from Monash University, is a CMRP, and CRL. George has over 25 years of experience in the Life Sciences industry and food manufacturing. He is a CRL, CMRP, a Black Belt in Reliability, Uptime Award Winner and a CMRP of the Year recipient. He is a well recognized thought leader, change agent, speaker and teacher within the industry. He also teaches courses in Maintenance Management and Planning & Scheduling at the University of Wisconsin.