Leadership in Your Company: Something to Worry About?


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So, then, to every man his chance—to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity—to every man the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him—this, seeker, is the promise of America.

—Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again

This quote, dear reader, published in 1940, is the promise the founders had in mind when they constructed this country in the 18th century. They were leaders who believed that self-government (a new concept) was possible if the population was educated and virtuous.

It was clear that what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when writing the Declaration of Independence was not to create a new government that would guarantee equal results for all its citizens. Instead, he and the founders replaced the ruling English monarchy by constructing a government that created and maintained a free environment, one providing every individual with equal opportunity under the law.

However, the founders didn’t just wave their arms and instantly produce a system that created the guaranteed opportunity they espoused. Instead, they produced a template for self-government based on principles that were invariant. The template is the Federal Constitution with an amendable Bill of Rights. The principles were those stated in the Declaration: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, the founders wrote a promissory note to those who at the time were not included as heirs to those natural principles. These were a set of lofty ideals for us as a country to run under over the years to come—two steps forward, one step back.

So the struggle continues to this day as the freedom and opportunity that Jefferson declared were inalienable individual rights are extended to more and more of the population.

The struggle has been most successful when the country’s elected leaders have been true to the founder’s objectives. However, our country’s leaders have not been all elected. Martin Luther King Jr. was never elected to a government position, but few would deny that he was one of the greatest leaders the United States has ever produced.

This column will discuss the role of leadership in your company. Do you play a role in this rather amorphous subject? Leadership is an ingredient that most feel is important, even though many find it is hard to define. Some say that you will know good leadership when you see it.

Teaching Leadership

In some ways leadership skills mirror engineering skills in the difficulty academia has in making them relevant in the real world. Apart from getting really good at solving the odd-numbered problems at the end of the chapter, engineering academia preparing students for a career in high tech electronic product design and assembly has been and always will be ineffective in teaching the real world skills industry needs. Certainly, we should expect no change if post-secondary education remains structured in the traditional way.

As discussed in prior columns, important skills such as working in teams, solving problems without closed-form solutions, good judgment, conflict resolution and leadership, that are called upon frequently in the real world have little place on the college campus. Colleges and universities can teach the mechanics of using spreadsheets, budgeting, PERT charts, etc., but these are management, not leadership skills.

So, let’s review:

In the September column, we concluded our six-part series with commentary on the current state of post-secondary education—one that leads to a career in the high tech electronic product assembly business. We demonstrated the acute need to significantly improve a student’s academic preparation, both for the benefit of the student and the student’s real world employer. This new teaching methodology called concurrent education should be applied to any dynamic engineering discipline or technology that changes more rapidly than academia has the ability to adapt to the change. In addition, the teaching strategy provides immediate value to the graduating student because it is a blend of learning for learning and learning for earning[1].

The Role of Leadership in Your Company

In the October issue, we launched a new series of columns focused on challenging our traditional organizational business structure. A structure that is hierarchical in nature and built upon the premise that it is best to collect employees of common skills into departments. Specifically, we challenged how our high tech electronic product assembly operations have been staffed and managed. In addition, we discussed the explicit and implicit roles leadership plays in a company’s growth and prosperity[2].

We made the case that there is a huge difference between management and leadership. In fact, they are polar opposites! One of the reasons we have tended to lump them together is because they both involve planning, influencing and directing the activities of others in the organization.

Consequently, the costs associated with these activities are considered indirect and are burdened – i.e., they are estimated and absorbed in the direct labor sell rate. They are what contribute to raising a $15.50 average hourly direct labor rate to, in some cases, a $50.43 burdened hourly labor sell rate.3

What is the cost of management and leadership in your company? And, what does your company get for that money?

Over the next few columns we’ll do a value assessment and try to quantify these indirect, overhead and G&A contributions and see if there are more cost effective alternatives available.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the November 2016 issue of SMT Magazine, click here.

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