Leaders Need To Get Their Hands Dirty

November 3, 2013

Leadership


Dirty hands planting fresh green herbs in a planter

Like a garden, you can’t grow a great business without getting your hands dirty once in a while.

Who are the leaders you respect most? Are they the managers in the corner office you rarely see? Or are they the guys that walk around the office and roll up their sleeves to help out when the “stuff” hits the fan?

Early in my career, I had the privilege of working with an executive who got his hands dirty once in a while. He regularly walked the manufacturing floor and tried to get to know the key guys in each area. More importantly, though, when we were in quarter-end crunch shipping a big order, he would  put on his white ESD coat and show up in the mechanical assembly or pack-out areas and ask to be put to work. The manufacturing leads deeply respected him for that. When he moved into Supply Ops, he showed the same spirit when a series of significant component problems prevented us from building a shipping a critical product for our customer. He set up a war room to coordinate his team of buyers and provide support to engineering, personally called suppliers and even went to the warehouse to find parts himself. As young engineer, this profoundly influenced my leadership values.

Later in my career, I had a manager who quickly got promoted, but kept one team – the team I was on – as direct reports. His reason? He didn’t want to get too far from the action. He eventually got moved to another department and his successor was surprised that our team didn’t have a manager reporting to him.  That quickly changed, disconnecting him from the action and creating more of a gap between us and more senior management.

In video games, some Producers are general managers while others came from art, design or programming. When we get into crunch time, the best of us try to help in some way, by either taking on non-critical work or by walking the floor and helping remove whatever roadblocks come up. In an industry that is all about creating content, helping that content get created is usually appreciated.

Why is it important to get your hands dirty once in a while?

It keeps you connected to the product/service

Knowing your business includes knowing how your product is made or the service is delivered. As a manager or executive, it will give you more credibility with both your customers and your teams.

You know what is or is not working for your teams

If you work side-by-side with your team, you will quickly see what is or is not working for them. Problems could be in the process of how the product/service is delivered or in the business processes that support them. Sometimes something as simple as filling out time sheets can be a great source of frustration and time list, but you won’t see it if you’re in your office.

Your team will get to know YOU

People tend to prefer to work for a company led by real people rather than for a faceless corporation.

Have you worked with leaders who got their hands dirty once in a while? What did you think of that?

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About Liza Wood

Throughout my career, I have consistently joined companies on the verge of explosive growth and change. From these experiences, I have developed a human, collaborative, and pragmatic leadership style. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog. Join me on Facebook!

View all posts by Liza Wood

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