Thursday, February 2, 2017


Keith Davenport: You've got to help them out, Frank, or they will walk out on you. That'll be a worse failure than mine ever was. 
Frank Savage: Give them something to lean on?
Keith Davenport: Call it anything you like.
Frank Savage: Keith...I don't believe it. Here's where we part company. They're not boys. They're men. Too bad they have to find out about it so young. How old is Bishop? Twenty one, maybe. It's tough to have to grow all the way up at 21. But that's the only way we're going to get it done. And I think they can do it. Lean on somebody? I think they're better than that. And it that's not true, then we're a dead duck.
--Twelve O'Clock High

Fresh out of school, I went to work in a factory as a process engineer. My role was technical support, particularly project work aimed at improving products and processes.

We had a production manager named Jim. Big guy, smoker, balding. As production manager, Jim was ultimately responsible and held accountable for all that occurred in daily operations. Quantity, quality, equipment maintenance, personnel safety. That Jim was prematurely graying was probably no surprise as his was the ultimate high pressure job in the mill.

Jim's management style was authoritarian. This did not mean that he did not listen to, or frequently seek out, the viewpoints of others. But at the end of the day he preferred to make the decisions--in a forthright and often blunt manner.

His gruff approach irritated many managers. More than one viewed him as a dictator who managed by edict. "Here comes your buddy," one of my process engineer colleagues once said to production superintendent when he noticed Jim strolling down the noisy production floor toward them. "He's not my #$%^ing buddy," the superintendent replied.

At least on the surface, Jim didn't appear bothered that he was not well liked. Sitting in Jim's office shooting the breeze one afternoon, a friend and I suggested to Jim that his decision-making style wasn't winning him many friends. "I'm not here to make friends," he quickly shot back.

Although Jim's style rubbed many the wrong way, his results were superb. His tenure as production manager coincided with record performance for the division. However, his fine results did not preclude many from holding grudges.

Did Jim truly not care that his approach to management did not win many of his associates over? I don't know. I am pretty certain that Jim would say that he was being completely transparent with his forthright manner, that he would not compromise his behavior in order to gain popularity.

There was much to learn in those early years. Although I didn't realize it at the time, Jim was one of the lead instructors.

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