[Webinar Recap] Maximizing Leadership Moments in Manufacturing

Did you miss our webinar with ATD on August 13th? Not to worry, we’re recapping it all below.


We believe that everyone that leads everyday. If everyone is leading everyday, everyone needs the opportunity to grow, and learn, and development themselves to become better leaders for their organization. Traditionally, leadership development has only been available for the elite few – we we want to change that

We also believe that we live in a world of continuous and constant change, but that that change is very normal. This change is not going anywhere, if anything, it’s increasing. This means that organizations have to be ready to adapt constantly in order to survive and thrive.

At the core, we believe that people matter most and in order to make our people and our leaders successful, we have to provide them with the tools they need to make the most of these leadership moments.

Hidden Figures: How Three Women Maximized Their Leadership Moments

The best way to describe Leadership Moments is to analyze a story where leadership moments made huge impacts in history.  The call to the United States NASA program began in the 1960s with the space race and the story that inspired the film Hidden Figures.  ​

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson started at NASA as “computers” in the West Area Computers Section at NASA.  This was a segregated group of African-American women hired into a pool to do complex mathematic calculations before IBM brought computers to NASA. The Space Race was on and all hands needed to be on deck.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan taught herself FORTRAN language and taught the women programming languages and other concepts to prepare them for the transition from hand-computation work, to computer work.   Reflecting on that time, she said, “I changed what I could, and what I couldn’t, I endured”.  

Mary Jackson petitioned the City of Hampton to force the University of Virginia to attend night classes so she could earn her engineering degree.  She analyzed data from wind tunnel experiments to understand air flow, thrust and draft forces.   She co-authored 12 technical papers for NASA and helped other women and minorities to advance their careers, including how to study in order to qualify for promotions.  ​

Katherine Johnson calculated trajectories for the first manned mission that launched men into space and trajectories for subsequent missions to rendezvous paths for the Apollo lunar modules and command modules.  Her calculations were essential for the beginning of the Space Shuttle program.  Katherine was assertive, asking to be included in editorial meetings (where no women had gone before).  She simply told people that she had done the work and that she belonged.  She is considered a pioneer for African’-American women in STEM.​

They did this against all odds and against the pervasive hierarchical structures during the Jim Crow era.  It was the small decisions they made at each step that demonstrated to NASA, they were a key component to their success.  They lead when others did not.  ​​ These women each saw an opportunity to lead into leadership moments and were presented with the opportunity to demonstrate collaboration, innovation, trust, communication skills and influence to become pioneers in the world for space and computer technologies.   

Now, most of us will never have the opportunity for our leadership moments to impact mankind in the way these three women did.  However, if we are not making the most of leadership moments to advance our organizations, we are surely either missing opportunities or worse, making negative choices during leadership moments that set back innovation and creativity in our organizations.

Leadership Moments Predicate Your Future

leadership moment occurs when an employee (individual contributor, manager, executive) interacts or could interact with one or more people to mobilize them in taking some action the employee needs to achieve her objectives, now or in the future.​

They are the catalyst for transformational change in our organizations, and it’s not just about one moment in particular. It’s about the accumulation of these moments over time to make a very intentional change for the future.

If we reserve the opportunity for change and development only for a select few, we’re missing the opportunity for that transformational change. We need to help all employees build on their foundational leadership skills like trust, communication, and adaptability so they have the ability to influence others and take advantage of each moment.

The Next Generation: Manufacturing 4.0

The next generation is now the majority of our manufacturing organizations, with Gen Z entering the workforce now. By 2025, 75% of the workforce will have been born after 1980.

Up until recently, our workplaces were reflective of the Baby Boomer generation. We’re moving to an evolution of manufacturing, an evolution of leadership, and the evolution of the workforce as a whole.

Like NASA in the Space Race, the current state of the manufacturing industry calls for an all-hands-on-deck approach.We have to ask ourselves, what can we provide this new generation to ensure that they have the influence and skills needed for the future of this industry? This evolution gives us the opportunity to really think about how we prepare the next generation leaders, how we develop their skills, so they can take advantage of leadership moments.

Right now, most of our organizations are in between that 3rd and 4th phase. Our new generation of leaders will be the ones who move us through the 4th evolution of manufacturing. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to prepare them with strong leadership skills. You can read more about the evolution and history of manufacturing here.

Re-Skilling For The Future

To be successful through the evolution of manufacturing, leaders and teams need to be collaborativeinnovative, and responsive to disruptive change.​

Right now, we’re looking at people making more decisions, thinking more systemically, and being more creative. Many people in the industry have trouble with that creative piece – how can we be creative when there are processes that are typically cut and dry? The creativity lies in this: no, we cannot change how we assemble a plane part, for example, but we can think creatively and collaboratively about how we upgrade the process of assembling that part.

Here is a quick look at some of the leadership skills needed to be successful in evolution of manufacturing​

  • Quickly establishing & maintaining trust with all stakeholders​
  • Collaborating up, down, and across the organization​
  • Offering and asking for feedback​
  • Enabling intrinsic motivation in others​
  • Rewarding behavior
  • Be able to influence behavior without positional authority

To get there, we have to start with analysis. Take a look at the state of your own organization. Are you transitioning from 3.0 to 4.0? Are you earlier in the timeline, maybe 2.0 to 3.0? What challenges are you facing? What do leadership moments look like and what kind of skills do we need to address them?

This is not just an AchieveForum way of thinking, the Manufacturing CEO organization agrees. They’ve recognized the following skills and assigned an importance level to each:

  • understanding systems processes (82%)
  • adaptability (82%), ​
  • globalization (75%) and ​
  • aligning different work groups together (68%)

They also recognized a three-part focus for addressing the changes needed:

  • Future-focused leadership behaviors
  • Leadership planning and development at all levels
  • Pioneering leadership role models for Manufacturing 4.0

Essentially, in order to create a strong leadership foundation in your company for the future, you have to prepare all employees of today. They will influence the nature of your evolution.

Transforming How We Think About Leadership

The new machinery and processes being introduced on the line have exacerbated the need for a re-skilling in terms interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence to work in concert with new tech. Additionally, there is a very common phenomena in the industry where younger members of the organizations feel more inclined to lead because they feel they do not have the opportunity to grow.

It’s time to show employees that (1) we are committed to developing their skills and (2) we are ready and able to provide them with skills that will serve them in navigating the challenges of the future and influencing change.

​Here’s how to take a new approach:

  • Start with existing leaders. Your current leaders (even millennials) need to shift their thinking on leadership to reflect fresh and transformative behaviors rather than forcing outdated ideologies to work on updated systems. Teach them to effectively listen and give feedback, encourage them to build trust-based environments – they should serve as the soft skills standard for their respective teams. ​
  • Make leadership development available to all. Organizations often focus their time, money, and resources on a smaller subset of leadership. In today’s landscape, it’s more important to develop soft skill leadership behaviors from moment one. And we can do this by democratizing leadership, giving leader the tools they need in those leadership moments. And the cherry on top is, demonstrating a commitment to ongoing professional development is sure to result in increasing retention rates in your organization. ​
  • Engage everyone in problem solving. The traditional model of knowledge transfer may serve its purpose for repetitive hard skills, but soft skills are a totally different game. For soft skills, a multi-modal approach is needed. We learn the nuances of things like humility and pragmatic planning from experience. Inviting all members of the team to the table will allow a collaborative thought process, and how they can adapt as things change. ​

​We are recognizing that technology is changing, that manufacturing is changing, but we still need to invest in our leaders. Leadership moments are only going to increase. We need to prepare everyone for facing them and shaping the future.

Leave a Comment