John, plant manager for a forging company, told our Leadership Development Lab (LDL):
“In order to continue growing in my position as Plant Manager, I began coming into work on Saturday mornings. Each Saturday I would work with a different department in an entry level position. On a Saturday in April, I had the chance to work with the Die & Mandrel Dept. The task I was given was to weld-up a die. I had never done any welding before. I was excited about doing the job and getting the experience.
“The Shop Foreman, Dale, greeted me at 5:30 a.m. We started right away. He demonstrated the proper welding technique, discussing what he was doing as he welded up a piece of scrap material. Dale made it look so easy. His weld was straight as an arrow. I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be easy.’ Well, I tried next and Dale literally held my hand as I welded up the scrap metal. Once the smoke cleared and we looked at the two welds, it was easy to see who the beginner was. My weld looked like a snake at high speed compared to Dale’s. What I thought would be easy was a real challenge. At that time Dale let me loose to weldup (put a 1/4” weld across the entire surface) on an 8” STD SR 90º Elbow Die. Dale stayed with me for the first few passes of weld, insuring I was safe and not making too much of a mess of the die. What a learning experience! Weld rod sometimes seems to have a mind of its own, especially in the hands of a beginner. I stuck the weld rod numerous times to the die block. Each time I got it stuck I would flip back my hood and yank and pull until I had freed the rod from the block. One time I yanked so hard I flipped the weld rod up against the top of the die and back against the side of my neck. Thankfully, the rod was not red hot. I was lucky to only suffer a minor skin burn. Speaking of lessons learned!
“While I was much better at the end of that four hours, I realized it would take me months to duplicate what Dale had done so easily.
“It was important to me to learn how to weld, but it was far more important for me to have a chance to work with the crew. In four short hours I had the opportunity to get to know each member of the team. I listened to each of them as they related stories. Mike was eating pizza and offered it around telling how he had gotten the pizza. Ron, whom I had hardly known, talked about his past marriage (his first wife of 20+ years having recently passed away), his current marriage, and some of his retirement goals. Joe and Dale were pretty quiet.
“The biggest joy I had personally was when individual members of the crew came over at different times to help me with the welding. Joe showed me his welding technique, Mike helped me with my hood, and Dale continually checked on my progress - always asking if there were any other questions, and tactfully pointing out areas needing correction.
“The lesson learned from this experience is that by becoming involved with and listening to each team member in each department, honest and meaningful communications can take place.
“The action I call you to take is make the time to be with your team - listen to them, open the lines of communication, develop relationships that allow for effective acknowledgment of each team members strengths and contribution.
“The benefit you will gain is improved relationships with each team member, the development of empowered teams, and you will be an empowering leader.”
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