O’Connor Mining Equipment (OME) had been a disaster since it was acquired by a conglomerate. Three plant managers had been sent to the facility to do a turnaround, but the situation had gotten worse. The plant managers had excellent credentials – good schools, great grades, and strong reviews at the corporate office. But they just didn’t connect with the blue-collar employees.
As a last resort, the corporate general manager asked Vicky Randolph to take on the challenge. Vicky was from the state and the university just 20 miles down the road. She had experience in blue-collar environments, but was not considered high potential in the company.
The first thing that Vicky did was to speak with each employee out on the floor. She asked each of them: What can I do to help you do your job better? Then she took the supervisors off the floor to make the changes suggested by employees that were reasonable. When changes weren’t reasonable she challenged the supervisors by saying, “tell me what it will take to be able to say yes.”
The skepticism of having a woman as plant manager quickly dissipated. Vicky didn’t come to work dressed for an office. She dressed for the floor where she spent most of her time.
When workers had their lunch break, she ate with them. She didn’t react when one of the workers joked about a coworker using off-color language. In fact, she added in her own commentary. Soon she was accepted as one of their own.
But what set Vicky apart from the other bosses was her support for employees during a time of personal loss. When employees lost a loved one, Vicky was there for them. She just had a way of sharing their loss with them. Her empathy was genuine and highly valued.
As the mining industry declined, the factory was in danger of being closed. Vicky didn’t sugarcoat the challenge they faced. When she called for an “all hands” meeting, everyone feared the worst when Vicky began by saying, “I want to read you a letter from my boss.”
The letter began: “Today our number one competitor announced they were leaving the mining equipment business. That was a decision we came close to making a year ago, until you took over the leadership of our factory. I’m proud to say that you and your employees have made us the dominant force in what still remains a vital industry for America.”
The looks on the faces of the employees said it all; Vicky’s authenticity had brought out the best in every employee.
Sensitive leaders share a number of traits including:
- Genuineness – They don’t pretend to be someone other than themselves.
- Empathy – They care about others, not out of obligation but out of genuine caring.
- Plain Spoken – They don’t sugarcoat tough messages and what they say is what needs to be said.
- Listening – They listen to all points of view and don’t filter out what they don’t want to hear.
Sensitivity is not something you learn, it’s who you are. You can’t fake it.
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“Authenticity is about being true to who you are, even when everyone around you wants you to be someone else.” – Michael Jordon