More than a quiver of technical competency

Reliability leaders’ true power comes from vision, courage, and empathy.

By Phil Beelendorf, CMRP, Roquette America

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SMRP Conference

Phil Beelendorf, CMRP, maintenance technology senior manager at Roquette America, will present “The Essential Characteristics of the Transformational Reliability Leader” at the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 22 at 11 A.M. The presentation will map out the skills needed to unleash the reliability leader within you. Today’s reliability leader needs more than technical competency to produce the results that lead to sustained culture change. Soft skills such as vision, courage, and empathy are needed to create an atmosphere of greatness. Learn more about the SMRP Conference at www.plantservices.com/smrp2014.

Early in my career, I believed technical skill development was the quickest path to becoming an effective maintenance and reliability leader. I pursued knowledge with such zeal that I left little time for building relationships. As I grew in my profession, I discovered that technical competency alone cannot produce the results that lead to sustained culture change. While technical competency is essential and is a necessary skill used to develop a reliability excellence culture, soft skills such as vision, courage, and empathy play a greater role in creating the atmosphere of greatness which ultimately ensures program success. Creating a mood of excitement and curiosity about the reliability program engages employees and creates a workplace where something truly special can take root. To be seen as trustworthy, your peers must believe you are genuine, reliable, and caring as much as they see you as competent. True transformation to a reliability excellence culture requires a leader who possesses the vision of John F. Kennedy, the courage of Winston Churchill, the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and the compassion of Mother Teresa; but do these essential characteristics really exist in one reliability leader? How can the reliability professional develop these skills in order to maximize influence? Reliability leadership has less to do with position and more to do with character and authenticity. Everyone, no matter what their position in the organization is, can become a reliability leader and will benefit from employing the practices which will nurture and develop their leadership skills.

Who’s the leader?

Before we begin discussing the essential characteristics of leadership, I would like to suggest that your position in the organization does not guarantee you are or are not a leader. In the movie Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s character William Wallace meets Robert the Bruce after a bloody battle. In a poignant moment William Wallace states, “Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don’t follow titles. They follow courage. Now our people know you. Noble and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they’d follow you. And so would I.” Do people in your organization respect you so much that they are willing to follow you into the battle for improved asset health? This degree of loyalty will not come from your title alone. My title of maintenance technology senior manager does not guarantee that people will listen to or follow me. In fact, I have not updated my business card since my two most recent promotions. The email and phone number are still the same, so I see no need in throwing away the unused cards. Call it my personal contribution to the cost-reduction effort. My title describes my position; it does not define my character or guarantee that I am an effective leader. No matter what your position in the organization, you can be a champion for the reliability effort and a leader in your own right. If you passionately embrace the reliability cause and exhibit the characteristics of reliability leadership, people will follow you on the path to excellence.

reliability leadership1
Figure 1. Integrity is like the roots of a tree, not always visible above the surface, but the source of strength, growth, and stability. Intent is like the trunk, producing a base from which competencies grow to produce results.

Leadership starts first and foremost with trust. In the forward to the book, The Speed of Trust, Dr. Stephen Covey writes, “Trust is the ultimate root and source of our influence.” Trust requires four essential characteristics of leadership — integrity, intent, competency, and results. I had stated that competency and results alone will not make you a great leader. By themselves, competency and results will not build the trust required to produce sustain culture change. During an annual review of my work, in a year in which I’d produced the most significant cost savings of my career, a manager said, “I really appreciate the fact that you saved the company $2 million, but did you have to leave so many dead bodies behind?” Dead bodies — obviously I had a great deal to learn about win/win and leadership. Results at the cost of relationship have only short-term value. People must see you as a person of character and believe you genuinely care about them? Figure 1 illustrates the four essential characteristics of leadership required to build a trust relationship, depicted in the form of a tree.

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