“It is a fine thing to have ability, but the ability to discover ability in others is the true test” – Elbert Hubbard
How can you and I possibly use this leadership quote?
Imagine that you have provided a special set of lockers at the entrance to your business. They are special because they are each equipped with a brain life support system. Imagine the lockers are placed near to where everyone passes as they enter your premises. Each time one of your colleagues, your workforce, arrives, they have a hinged lid on top of their heads and they are able to lift out their brains and put them into the locker for safe keeping on life support idle while the owner’s body is at ‘work’. The brain can then be collected on departure at the end of the day.
Do you have any people in your business who are acting like that?
I first discovered this phenomenon whilst running a factory making injection moulded plastic parts for cars. It was in the early 80s, well before my introduction to the enlightened ways of W Edwards Deming and well before the availability of modern computers.
One of our best machine operators, Ian, was running a big injection moulding machine, producing handbrake parts. We had some urgent quality issues and needed to start gathering and analysing some dimensional data. The quality manager and I had some challenges with resources. We were searching round for someone we thought could handle the sums for the data analysis. Phone calls were made, requests to other business units, etc, but there wasn’t an obvious answer. It wasn’t a long job for each moulding but the machine produced 60 parts an hour, about 450 a day. Not only did we need the analysis in a timely fashion but the backlog of a day’s worth of data each day would soon become a mountain to climb.
The quality manager and I were discussing this before the start of a management meeting. The tool room foreman asked if we’d found a way. “No, but it’s becoming a bigger issue. We’re having to use one of the accounts clerks for a couple of hours a day but that’s not gone down well with the Finance Director”. “Is Ian still running the machine?” asked the tool room foreman. “Yes,” I said, “he’s the best we have”. “Did you know he runs our football club?”
If thought you’d never ask!
Well, I didn’t know. Neither had I thought of asking whether he could do the data crunching. I went straight over to his machine as soon as the meeting was finished. “I thought you’d never ask!”, he said. Of course, he could do the data crunching. For the football club he was organising the fixture list, and running the bar including ordering the stock and all the book-keeping. We quickly went through what was needed and Ian said it would be no problem to run it within the cycle time of the machine. The data was crunched, the analysis completed and the results were used in our efforts to minimise the quality issues.
An obvious error
With hindsight, it’s an obvious error on my part to miss asking the operator to be more involved. You can imagine that I was much more aware of abilities and capabilities as I moved through my career. And I believe this is exactly what Elbert Hubbard meant in this great leadership quote.
How good are we at making sure we spot abilities, skills and knowledge in our colleagues? Are we encouraging the use of brain lockers or do we make sure the brains are fully in use all day every day? How do we make sure? Being aware is a big step forward.
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