The Curious Leader

In this time of great change for manufacturing, leaders must stay curious. While good leadership requires self-confidence and knowledge, a healthy dose of paranoia about what you don’t know is also critical. Leadership means being open to new ideas¬† and actually seeking them out.¬† How? By listening both to the people around you putting your ear to the ground not only in your own segment, but in the world overall.

Ironically, it can be more difficult to stay open to new ideas as you gain more experience and knowledge. It seems to me that in some production companies leaders have stopped listening for those new ideas. This appears in a few ways:

  • Getting stuck in incrementally improving whatever has worked in the past. They task everyone with looking for ways to squeeze the last ounce of efficiency or cost out of a process.
  • Assuming that their entire business is at the maturity level of their greatest breakthrough. For example, many companies that have very sophisticated or even unique production processes are in the dark ages about how to run the enterprise to best leverage that process.
  • Believing they no longer need to make major investments in IT systems. Given the enormous resources spent to get applications installed in the first place, some seem to believe they are done.

Those who bring an open and curious mind will always find next steps and broader horizons. Even if you don’t want to know any details about Smart Manufacturing, Industry 4.0 or other technology-based visions of the future, you will find you need a completely new vision for your business.

No one leader can see all of the strategic needs of the company. It is critical to always be asking, listening, probing and curious. This is the coach approach. Beyond direct reports, go all the way to the front lines – those on customer service lines, sales, or the production floor. Everyone is a source of innovation.

Leaders ask questions and are curious. Everyone is key to innovation - just ask!

Leaders are curious and ask everyone to innovate. As fast as business is changing, you must be open and poised to change not just in small ways, but in big ways.

The insights a leader gains by “walking around” asking questions are invaluable. Next a leader needs to be wise enough to assemble a team that can explore reality further, then parse these new ideas into an effective vision. Being bold enough to take action based on them is often what differentiates leaders of companies that set new rules for a market from others who have to live by them later.

A great leader is not only inspirational to the team, but inspired by them as well. I doubt there is a manufacturer on the planet today who will not see big changes in their business over the next 5-10 years. Are you curious enough to be ahead of these big changes?

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