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Three Curious Leadership Lessons for Front Line Leaders from Donald Trump

Now that the U.S. election is behind us, there are some interesting lessons that front line supervisors and managers in operations and manufacturing environments can take by observing the significant support expressed by those who voted for Donald Trump. This article doesn’t condone or support unacceptable behaviors towards women or immigrants, nor does it support bullying and put downs as good leadership behaviors. 

Leadership Lesson 1: They are not deplorables, they are people.

The work of your front line team members creates nearly all the value your organization sells to customers. Those contributors make the products and deliver the services your customers buy, and those purchases pay everyone’s salary. In many cases the team members care more deeply about the success of your company and they often will stay with the company longer than their managers will.

Front line leaders should think about themselves as servant leaders – they are there to help their team members succeed. The leader works for the team, not the other way around.

It is important for leaders at all levels in the organization to treat all team members with respect and not talk down to them based on level of education or their lifestyle.

Leadership Lesson 2: Just because your team members don’t vocalize concerns doesn’t mean they support your initiatives

The pollsters ended up being unable to accurately predict the outcome of the election. They didn’t pick up on the level of dissatisfaction that drove the grass roots support for leadership change. In the same way, when a front line supervisor, manager or engineer is implementing change in the workplace he or she can be lulled into a sense that everyone supports the idea simply because they don’t hear a lot of vocal opposition. We know that a vast percentage (perhaps as much as 2/3 of team members) are somewhat passive by nature. Therefore they will have concerns and not express them. Their opposition will be evidenced by not fully buying in. Leaders therefore need to take the time to communicate in large groups, small groups and one-on-one to surface concerns and then address them.

Leadership Lesson 3: Be more transparent in your communication

Okay, perhaps President Elect Trump pushed transparency to the extremes, but it’s interesting that his base of support wasn’t diminished by speaking directly and candidly. Most organizations still have fundamental gaps in their communication and leaders have primary responsibility for ensuring that key messages get communicated. It’s amazing that the rumor mill or grapevine provides a more reliable channel for team members to find out what’s going on than waiting to hear through an official announcement. To build trust leaders must learn to communicate more information and do so more frequently. And then ask for, and listen to employee questions, concerns, ideas and input. Your front line team members have a first hand view of the frustrations that prevent them from satisfying customers, or increasing productivity or improving quality and yet those insights go untapped.

Reflect on and apply the leadership lessons above to Make Your Company Great Again! If we can be of service in training your front line supervisors, managers and team leaders to be more effective, reach out and start a conversation through our Contact page

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