KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Two of the toughest and most important things corporate and plant managers must learn to do is to delegate responsibilities and projects, plus always lead by example. Both go hand-in-hand.
When I first became executive editor of a trade magazine decades ago, I had to manage a staff of seven. During my first several six-month performance reviews, there was one area my boss said I could always improve: delegating projects. I wasn’t good at delegating because the few times I did in the past, I was not satisfied with the end results. I convinced myself that I could do a better job myself…but I also realized after a while after struggling with an enormous work load that I also didn’t want to work 12 hours or more a day in the process.
After agonizing about delegating for a while, I jumped in and began delegating with gusto. It soon became evident to me that I had to be crystal clear in directions whenever delegating a job. This meant establishing realistic, complete, easy-to-understand assignments and deadlines; routinely follow-up on progress without getting in my staff’s way, having an open-door policy should any of my staff have questions or challenges with an assignment, be willing to listen to new ideas from my staff plus encourage the staff to submit new ideas — and most important, always be willing to roll up my sleeves to help should a staffer hit an insurmountable roadblock.
Plant managers I have met over the years who appeared to be doing the best jobs were usually responsible for running the very largest of facilities. They understood they couldn’t do everything themselves.
“You have to trust your people,” Tim Fritz, plant manager for Hormel Foods’ flagship 1.1 million-sq.-ft. processing plant in Austin, Minn., told me several years ago. “I have 14 direct reports, including seven operating superintendents. There is absolutely no way I can know everything that’s going on in this facility on a daily basis without their input. It’s too big.”
Fritz and many other plant managers I’ve met along the way realize the power of working together, teamwork and reminding everyone in the plant that he or she plays a pivotal role in the company’s continuing success. And when it comes to managing, nothing beats having experienced people to help you out.
I visited Cargill Value Added Meats-Retail’s massive Dayton, Va. turkey complex — one of the largest turkey complexes in the world that processes an average of 84,000 turkeys per day – a while back and Randy Batson, complex general, was quick to tell me, “I am fortunate we have a lot of tenure at this complex,” which included a very seasoned plant manager and head engineer.
On the other hand, a manager can never just delegate and wash his or her hands of a project. You have to manage the project all the way through, address challenges, assist in finding solutions — and provide encouragement to get each job done correctly and on time.
Leadership by example is invaluable. Be strong but fair in dealing with your staff. And always demonstrate calm in the face of daily business storms because your people will react to how you’re acting. If you are panicky and unsure of yourself, they will be panicky and unsure of themselves. I had a boss once who agonized over everything and was constantly wringing his hands in a sweat about everything. His staff soon lost faith in his leadership abilities.
Good leaders are good decision-makers. They listen to all input before making a decision. Equally important, good leaders make decisions in a timely manner. Another one of my past bosses agonized over everything and was afraid to make decisions, which was one of the reasons the company eventually let him go. Another past boss seldom got both sides of a controversy before he made a ruling on it. As a result, many decisions weren’t respected by his employees.
Being a leader is never easy — and quite frankly, not everyone is cut out to be one. So, here’s a heartfelt “thanks” to those exceptional leaders at corporate and in production. A truly great leader is indeed invaluable.