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Learning the Hard Way

Angela Leamon is the Director of Operational Excellence and is a manufacturing leadership professional with over 24 years of manufacturing experience, driving continuous improvement opportunities by reducing process variability and cycle time through Six Sigma and Lean methodologies. She is an ASQ certified Black Belt.

"It was my first management role that provided a real-life education on two topics that are often the hardest for leaders: resolving conflict and delegating tasks."

I was promoted from an industrial engineer role working on projects with no direct reports to a quality manager with 4 distinct departments, over 25 employees, and a whole lot of history. Decades of history.

Due to the history of my new staff, my inexperience in comparison caused some conflict. I had only been with the company for a little over 3 years. Ninety percent of my team had over 20 years of experience. They wondered how I became their new leader. There was some skepticism and a ‘Let’s watch and see how this works out’ attitude. There was some waiting to see what the ‘New Girl’ would do first.

There was also conflict between members of my team from the different departments. Some individuals had a hard time working with each other. The outward displays of their issues included ignoring each other, very loud disagreements, and frustration. After observing and evaluating the team, what I found was that they did not understand each other’s points of view. They respected each other’s knowledge but thought they were on opposite sides of the issue.

For both types of conflict, having a plan of action helped to resolve the issues within my team. At this point in my career, I had no formal leadership training. It was a learn-as-you-go approach. One of the key actions I discovered was to focus on shared needs, which is one of the 6 steps of the conflict resolution process. Many times all parties involved had the same overall goal but did not communicate it in words that each understood. Finding mutual ground laid the foundation for a successful resolution.

When working through the wants and needs of both parties, be careful not to jump to conclusions. Rather, be on the lookout for the root cause.

Another lesson I learned to become a more effective manager was being able to delegate to my team. I felt they were capable, but I take great pride in my work and had a hard time handing responsibilities to someone else. I can still remember the late Friday afternoon that I learned a hard lesson. My manager came into my office and told me that I needed to act like I might not be back on Monday. It should be noted that I was nine months pregnant at the time. My maternity leave could start at literally any moment. It was a long night at work as I taught myself how to delegate.

As I reviewed my key tasks and projects, several things became very clear. Whom you delegate to is as important as what you delegate. I had to take a very critical look at the skills and capabilities of my staff. It was very important to match up the tasks to the team members that had the necessary expertise and knowledge to complete their new assignments. My objective was to set them up for success.

Another key learning was to make assignments at the appropriate level. I discovered very quickly that I could not assign everything to my four quality engineers. They already had a full plate and adding my responsibilities could put them in the position of being overwhelmed and less effective. Keeping this in mind, I carefully reviewed my engineers’ tasks and delegated the appropriate ones to the quality technicians. This allowed time to take on the new projects.

Employees want to know that their leader feels they are capable. Trusting your team with key responsibilities builds trust, confidence, and commitment to the team. When I returned to work two months later, I was very proud of how my team stepped up and ran the department. My team was also very proud to review what they had accomplished while I was gone.

Delegating work to a person or team takes thought and consideration. If you delegate to the wrong person, you may spend too much time instructing and supporting the work.

If you are interested in learning more about the techniques mentioned and building your conflict resolution or delegating skills, we have two Leadership Development classes coming up, hosted by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, that that can help you accomplish this goal. Both courses offer methods, techniques, and templates that can be utilized immediately with your team. Register your team at the links below.

Leadership Development: Conflict Resolution

Leadership Development: Delegating Effectively

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