The responsibility of leadership

Nov. 15, 2012
Tom Moriarty says your workers are your responsibility, so make sure they know.

Being the leader of a group of people — a crew — should mean more than getting a bigger paycheck. There is a responsibility that goes with being a leader.

For one thing, your crew wants to work for someone who sticks up for them. What I mean by that is don’t let senior people or supervisors from other work crews circumvent you. For a direct report, there are few things as frustrating as uncertainty, like taking direction from more than one boss. Sure, when there’s an emergency situation someone must take charge, and it is not always the supervisor. Those instances are infrequent. If emergencies are happening frequently, perhaps it’s time to look for another situation.

The vast majority of people come to work wanting to do a good job. When they take direction from multiple people who all have different opinions of what is important, uncertainty occurs. So the first rule of taking care of your crew is ensuring that there is a clear understanding that you are the one who provides direction. If a senior person approaches a team member and gives direction, the crew member should ask the person if you’ve been notified of what is being requested. Often this is the most tactful way to let the senior person know that there’s a protocol to be followed.

If the senior person pushes the issue, the crew member should do what was asked by a senior person and then let the supervisor know what happened. This is where the fortitude and assertiveness is needed to address the issue with the person who bypassed the supervisor, tactfully, of course. Most, not all, senior people will recognize the issue and try to not repeat the error.

Tom Moriarty, PE, CMRP, is a former Coast Guardsman, having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years; earned a commission through Officer Candidate School; and retired as a Lt. Commander. During his final year of service, 2003, Tom was selected as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Federal Engineer of the Year; an award sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). He is a member of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability professionals, the past Chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Canaveral Florida Section, and a member of the ASME Plant Engineering and Maintenance (PEM) Division. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Western New England College, and an MBA from Florida Institute of Technology; Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in Florida and Virginia, Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, various credentials in management and reliability fields. He can be reached at [email protected].
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A second way to take care of your crew is to be decisive and consistent. Confusion often comes from outside the team. However, there can be an equal amount of frustration with a boss who is the source of uncertainty. When you frequently change your mind or don’t provide a stable set of ground rules, the crew can’t be sure they are doing what you want.

It is understood that some work centers have a very fluid and hectic pace of activity. What I’m suggesting is that a consistent framework be established so that people act and react to situations in ways that you can defend. You need to set consistent objectives and goals. Not that we should try to control every action a person takes.

Moreover, if crew members take actions that are consistent with the framework you establish, they should expect that you will go to bat for them.

What do I mean by “go to bat for them”? If someone on your crew gets something wrong and causes a problem, don’t let others chew out your crew member. If a senior person has a problem with your crew member, the senior person needs to chew you out. It is your job to put your crew in a position to do well. If they fail, it’s because you didn’t put them in a position to do better. Therefore, nobody should chew out your guys. They should chew you out; it’s your responsibility.

In the aftermath, you need to go back to the crew member who underperformed and first listen to that person’s side of what happened. What were they thinking, and what actually happened? Often you will find that the crew member was trying to act or react to something in the right way but lacked training, tools, or time to take the best actions. Work toward putting your crew in a position to succeed.

The other side of going to bat for your crew is when things go right, either with sustained higher performance or when a noteworthy event happened. Make sure senior people know who is in your crew and that the sustained high performance or noteworthy event occurred from what they did.

Some leaders worry that by taking the heat when the team does something wrong or by giving them credit for the good things that go right, they will be harmed in some way. Senior leaders know how you lead and manage. You will gain a reputation as a solid leader. Senior leaders value crew leaders who get the most from their crews; taking care of your crew is the best way to get the most from your crew. It’s always up to the leader to take the first step.