7 Tips On How To Be A New Kind Of Leader

7 tips on how to be a new kind of leader

June 6, 2023
In this installment of Reliable Reading, Ashleigh Walters showcases how she implemented an effective servant leadership strategy to help turnaround a family-owned furnace service business.

In October 2013, Ashleigh Walters’ father-in-law, who owned Onex, a family-owned, 50-year-old industrial furnace service business, called her to let her know the CFO had left the company. More importantly, he wanted her to take over. Her book, “Leading with Grit and Grace” is some of that story, but more about what Walters learned about how to lead and how to inspire. The following seven point are my important takeaways from this book, focused on being a different kind of leader.

1. Pay it forward.

In an industry that is struggling to hold onto craft and engineering knowledge, as older generations retire, paying it forward is an inspiration for Walters’ book through and through. In the introduction, she says, “Sharing the knowledge I have gained over the years rescuing and running a company is my way of paying it forward.” As you’ll see in the book and by some of the examples here, much of her leadership style embodies this ‘pay it forward’ philosophy far beyond knowledge sharing. It embodies her leadership style, which focuses on nurturing employee relationships and their future. 

2. Go to the frontlines.

With a degree in engineering, not management, Walters might have seemed unprepared to take over managing a manufacturing business, but she credits that background in helping her turn around a distressed company. “My background came through in spades, because engineering taught me to solve a problem by knowing how to find a solution,” she says. Her father stressed, “That in order to put my degree to work and make that textbook learning practical, I had to ask the people on the frontlines doing the actual work their perspectives.”

3. You have permission to fail.

“In the real world, not all ideas will be successful. In fact, there will be a lot more failures than successes, but we can learn from the failures. When we have the opportunity to experiment and try again, success often follows,” Walters says. But first, you have to give yourself permission to fail. Failure isn’t the result of not being successful, failure is not trying at all.

4. Try servant leadership.

Walters suggests that American manufacturing has traditionally taken a more command-and-control approach to management. “Today’s global business environment requires manufacturers to become more agile, which means employing a more democratic leadership style where all ideas are expected to be on the table,” she says. The foundation of servant leadership, she says, is shared mission. You can only get that by turning the company hierarchy on its head. “Servant leaders build communities by uniting people and empowering each of them to lead along the journey,” she adds.

5. Employees need space to grow and develop.

Around annual review time, the workplace atmosphere got more intense, and it was always hard to get managers to complete the employee reviews, Walters noticed. “For most of us, a performance review feels neither comfortable to perform nor an entirely reliable gauge of an employee’s value to the company. This is because the traditional employee review isn’t designed to capture all of the employee’s real contributions,” she said. They define performance as a narrow set of employee goals. How about try high-level results-based goals rather than specific task-based goals? “Your ultimate goal as a leader is to look for a person’s strengths and align those strengths with organization needs,” Walters says. With a growth mindset, you give your employees the space to learn, experiment and grow.

6. Crisis creates a strategic inflection point.

The good thing about a crisis is they all have a beginning, a middle and an end, and at that inflection point, business strategy will change quickly and nimbly, if you’re prepared to handle the surprise and act fast. Her tips for managing a crisis revolve around flexibility, communication, determination, resilience, and empathy. “When the crisis has passed (and it will), celebrate the ending, because it signals a new beginning,” she adds.

7. Leadership is sometimes lonely.

Don’t think leadership is all rainbows and sunshine all the time. The weight of responsibility can be heavy, even shared among a strong company culture. “As a business leader, the responsibility to make things better for your employees and community lies with you. Being in business is ultimately about helping people. By manufacturing a product or performing a service, a sustainable business improves the lives of the people working in it, as well as contributing to society at large,” Walters says. If leaders make the hard decisions with integrity, transparency, and vulnerability, those you want will follow you.

For more about Walters’ book and her experiences in manufacturing, listen to her episode of the Tool Belt podcast.

About the Author

Anna Townshend | managing editor

Anna Townshend has been a journalist and editor for almost 20 years. She joined Control Design and Plant Services as managing editor in June 2020. Previously, for more than 10 years, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review. In addition to writing and editing thousands of articles in her career, she has been an active speaker on industry panels and presentations, as well as host for the Tool Belt and Control Intelligence podcasts. Email her at [email protected].

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