If there is ever a time to discuss the similarities between plant leadership and politics, perhaps during an election year is as fitting a time as any.  Some time ago I was attending a class at Columbia University, and over a conversation at lunch with a professor, we discussed what a day in the life of a plant manager was like (I was a plant manager at the time).  After a bit of conversation about my typical day, the professor said, “It’s like you really are running for election as town mayor, aren’t you?”

Running for town mayor. Yes, that is a very good description of what an engaged, effective plant manager should be like.  So, since that day I have built an attribute framework of how plant managers can use the town mayor concept in their daily lives.  If you’re successful at either endeavor, parallels exist, and as such, practicing the similar leadership attributes can contribute to your success as a plant manager. 

Those attributes, in no particular order of importance, include:

Plant Managers and Town Mayors are Effective Communicators

Communication is a fairly obvious critical success factor for not only a manufacturing manager, but also any organizational leader, and it’s certainly not isolated to the business world.  Sports organizations, military organizations, political organizations -- you get the idea. In any team-based firm, good communication is probably the single greatest success skill a leader can practice. 

Almost invariably, there is a direct correlation between a leader’s ability to clearly and succinctly communicate the firm’s vision, mission, and their success.  So much so that a study by Watson Wyatt published in the Harvard Business Review indicated firms that practiced effective communication had a 47% higher shareholder return over a five-year period (Baldoni, 2009). 

Effective communication literally pays off in business.  Successful communication also means practicing the art of listening.  Being a good listener is a highly regarded and masterful skill cultivated over time.  Please know, the significance of communication cannot be overstated, as it is the catalyst that facilitates creating firm value, success and ultimately competitive advantage.

Plant Managers and Town Mayors are Visible Among the People They Serve

People want to have a personal connection to those who serve them. Yes, I said "serve" the people (We will get to that later).  To truly know what is happening within the four walls of your manufacturing plant, you have to be on the shop floor, visible among the people, being an active participant.  The shop floor is where the action is, where real value is created and frequently a leading indicator determining if a firm is winning or losing. 

Additionally, since most of the resident experts (also known as employees) reside there, the shop floor can be a terrific reservoir of information about how to improve the firm dimensionally, its quality, service, cost, safety, etc. The shop floor is simply a vast resource to help the firm improve. 

Plant Managers and Town Mayors Exercise Strong Self-control

We’ve all had one of those days when seemingly everything goes wrong or when a critical business situation happens that demands our full attention. We can just feel our blood pressure rise.  It’s precisely in those situations that plant managers must exercise self-control and become the source of calm and reason.  As leaders, the firm’s eyes are always watching us, and typically the people we lead will mimic our behavior -- so let’s be sure to make it good behavior.

Also, attitudes are contagious, good ones and bad ones, and the firm will reflect back to us what we project outwardly.  Great plant managers and town mayors work hard to always have a positive attitude. 

Great Leaders Must Be of Strong Ethical Character

This one is glaringly obvious but must be discussed regardless.  There is no single success factor perhaps more critical than integrity.  Integrity is the foundational character trait on which all other success factors are built.  High integrity creates trust, and trust is essential for any successful relationship, including a business relationship. 

Additionally, research indicates that in firms with a heavy investment strategy and where long-term employment is a component of the firm, like manufacturing plants, high trust firms could expect to see increased performance (Tzafrir, 2005).  Clearly ethics in business or otherwise cannot be compromised; there is no exception here.  

In my opinion, once it’s lost, your integrity is forever lost.  Great plant managers and town mayors have excellent integrity, really beyond reproach.