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Honesty and Humility in Leadership

Authenticity and an open culture are companies’ best defenses against crises, and can help them emerge from crises stronger than when they started.  
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These are extraordinary times that require the best leadership from company leaders, so let’s talk about how to live up to what your team needs. Yes, the present moment is daunting and a little scary, but it is perfectly okay to admit it. One peek at the nightly news and you could easily conclude the world is ending. In the midst of this, we must identify what is real to make good decisions. The good news is you already possess the two best tools needed to lead your team: honesty and humility. 

You’ll find parts that have been machined at Tech-Max in everything from submarines to satellites. Here is an amazing isogrid plate we are very proud of. Photo credit: Tech-Max. 


In the 31 years Tech-Max Machine Inc. has been in business, I have learned two very important lessons. First, nobody can predict the future. Second, it is important to lead in a way that allows your company to adjust to changing environments. We have survived the savings and loan crisis, the dot-com bubble crash, the Great Recession and, of course, the current COVID-19 recession, not to mention the birth of the internet, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, oil shocks and the explosion of cellphone use.   

How have all these events influenced my leadership? They made me realize that nobody has all the answers, so I decided early on that whenever a crisis hit our business, I would be honest with my team. I would show humility by admitting when I don’t immediately know what to do, but I would also say that collectively we could apply critical thinking to come up with a sound plan and execute it, making changes as needed. After all, we can only make decisions with the information we have in front of us — if that information changes, so too might our plans.   

I believe this approach promotes employee empowerment. Giving your team a voice is the single biggest thing you can do for them, and nothing in this world is more powerful than a person who is motivated and empowered. Motivated employees will accomplish far more than either they or you thought possible. 

Empowerment is at the crossroads of honestly and humility.

Empowerment is at the crossroads of honestly and humility. People crave authenticity and will respond favorably. Likewise, they loath “fake” people and will sniff out a pretender miles away. “Do as I say, not as I do” leaders are ineffective, while honest leadership with a steady, calming presence builds confidence — exactly what’s needed in times of crisis.            

Something interesting defines the lifecycle of a crisis. Eventually they all end, but usually the conclusion is so gradual and subtle that its precise ending is all but invisible. What’s left are years of prosperity bookended by shocks to the system. This is precisely where the authentic leadership payoff occurs. Almost counterintuitively, the bonds built during a crisis become stronger during prosperous times. The open culture already in place helps your team generate and implement new ideas. When the next shock hits, your team can exchange ideas and create the best plan for the issue at hand, which history tells us could be anything. The orderly process simply continues drama-free: Good decisions arise from calm confidence.

At Tech-Max, this process has repeated numerous times. We started out as a job shop serving the general commercial market, but have gradually moved into much more sophisticated markets such as defense, aerospace and nuclear. In every instance, we assembled to make a plan to meet the industry criteria and adjusted along the way. Despite the chaos of 2020, this year has not been an exception. As if the Coronavirus pandemic wasn’t enough, we are busy implementing processes to meet the coming Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) mandate coming from the Department of Defense. Like other shops, the pandemic shocked us, but our team systematically developed a helpful protocol and has been tweaking it as needed. With our open culture in place, ideas continue to flow, and I am confident we will come out of this crisis better than we were going in.

How you lead your company will ultimately become your biggest legacy.

You might have started out like most in our industry: a great machinist with a dream. But no matter whether you lead a five-person, 25-person or even a 250-person shop, how you lead your company will ultimately become your biggest legacy. No doubt it will be years, if not decades in the making, so you might as well be yourself. Being real and authentic will allow you to watch your team lift your company to unexpected heights.

About the Author

Richard Malek

Tech-Max Machine Inc. is a CNC machine shop specializing in large, complex parts for aerospace, defense, nuclear and commercial applications.

 

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