Good & Poor Leadership in One Example

I worked for a company that produced clocks for an automobile manufacturer, which required 1200 clocks daily with Just-In-Time deliveries. As the Business Unit Manager for all of their electronic products, I reported to the VP of Operations and HR. I believe that leadership is very important.

When I was being interviewed for that position, I was thoroughly questioned about a lot of things but their biggest interest was to ensure that I was a team based person. Interestingly, they interviewed me several different times for a grand total of about 17 hours. Heck, I was even interviewed by a psychiatrist who asked me to tell him what I saw when he showed me ink spots on cards. Was that an experience, especially when most of them didn’t resemble anything.

The Changes to the Process

Unfortunately, the automotive clock assembly line had too much WIP (Work In Process). It contained several bottlenecks and overtime was required to meet the demands of the customer. Overall, the original process was very inefficient. But the good point was that people on that line (approximately 10-12) had a wonderful attitude in doing their best.

The VP of Operations asked an Industrial Engineer Tom to re-organize the line, using the “Pull” concept. Basically, no more than 3-4 clocks could exist between operators and the previous operator couldn’t add another clock to the next operator’s queue until the next operator pulled one into their operation. This minimized the WIP and should improve throughput if each operator had about the same amount of time to perform their operation.

Results Without Team Involvement

In theory, it should have worked great. Unfortunately, reality and theory rarely line up. There were tolerances that had to be taken into account. Every piece being assembled didn’t have the same dimensions but all were within tolerance to the drawing. For example, you are snapping two plastic pieces together. When the male piece is small and the female part is big then the two pieces snap together easily. However, when the male piece is bigger and the female part is smaller, the time it takes to snap the pieces together will take more time.

Tom would come out twice a day for a week and observe the bottlenecks. He would change who does what and it would work for a while but then a bottleneck would pop up somewhere else. Again, Tom would make changes but he would just move the location of the bottleneck. The team did everything he asked and even offered to help but Tom stood firm that he would make the changes. The efficiency increased but we couldn’t make the required amount without overtime.

Results When the Team is Involved

One day, at the end of the shift, the team asked to speak with me. They thought that the concept was great. So, they tried to offer Tom suggestions. They felt they

Teamwork is needed with new Ideas

could produce the desired results. Unfortunately, Tom wouldn’t listen to them. 

So, I told them that I will give them the first 4 hours of the next day to do it their way. I explained that they couldn’t change the process because the automotive company signed off on the process and we would need their approval to change it. Basically, they could only change who does what. I also said I would make sure that Tom couldn’t change things in that 4-hour time frame. Lastly, they had to produce 600 clocks.

The team did a fantastic job as they produced 615 clocks in those 4 hours. I know they had something to prove. During those 4 hours, Tom came out and didn’t like what he saw. He immediately came to me to complain and I explained to him about the test run. I told him that he had an excellent idea but should enlist the help of the team to dial it in. I explained that he lives with the results of the problem but the team actually lives with the problem. He didn’t seem happy as he walked away.


Boy, was I right. Tom immediately went to my supervisor, who called me to his office and asked me what happened. I explained the situation to him but to my surprise, he supported Tom. That didn’t sit well with me, especially since he always wanted me to incorporate teamwork. I explained that the team produced quality units and exceeded the required amount. Most importantly, the team was very happy that they did it. I asked what the problem was except for hurting Tom’s feelings. Together they (Tom and the team) met the expectations.

Again, to my surprise, I was informed that I should have listened to Tom and that we had to do things Tom’s way.

So, you tell me, who demonstrated good leadership and who demonstrated poor leadership.


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