Raising the level of your leadership

Rosie The Riveter

Women in heavy-industry factories are common today. They do all the things men do on assembly lines, in machine shops, quality labs and stock rooms. But it hasn’t always been true. It started during WWII when the men were off fighting and workers were needed to produce airplanes, tanks, rifles, jeeps and so on. The women stepped up and were immortalized in a hit song, Rosie The Riveter:

All the day long, whether rain or shine,
She’s part of the assembly line.
She’s making history, working for victory,
Rosie the Riveter

It’s not an exaggeration to say that without Rosie, the war would have dragged on for years or have been lost. The women had no experience, but they were motivated to get the job done and they did.

I had my own Rosie The Riveter experience in the late 80’s. While serving as VP of Finance for a mid-size aerospace company, we were confronted with a crippling thirteen-week strike. At least it could have been crippling, but it wasn’t. Why? Because accountants, secretaries, engineers, buyers, vice-presidents and even the lawyers all went to the factory floor to keep production going. They even let me work out there. Since no one wanted me to have anything in my hands that moved or made noise, I was a wing wiper, meaning I took a rag, squirted Trike (trichloroethylene) on it, and cleaned excess adhesive, oil, sweat, dirt and grime off of aluminum surfaces before they went to the paint shop. For thirteen weeks, this motley crew—most with no experience—kept the production lines moving and our customers satisfied. It was an experience all of us remember proudly, made possible by four “…tions” that all leaders should burn into their leadership DNA.

#1  Motivation  Our president, John Kleban, was our CMO (Chief Motivation Officer) prior to and during the strike. He made it clear that our future was at stake and that by working together, we could do it. We believed him.

#2  Preparation  Prior to the strike, every employee who would work in the shop was trained for a specific assignment. On day one, we were ready to go.

#3  Execution  Have a plan. Work the plan. Track the plan. Change the plan. The more inexperienced the team, the more important is the plan.

#4  Appreciation  Kleban, along with most of the executive team, was in the shop every day, listening to, thanking and encouraging the team. We pushed water carts to all areas of the factory and served lunch.

Is your organization on a hard road that is beginning to look hopeless and impossible? Before you give up, ask your team which of the four “…tions” is lacking, then be a strong Kleban-type leader, do something about it!

© Copyright 2011 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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4 responses to “Rosie The Riveter”

  1. Diane says:

    As a employee this was one of the best moments in my career and I agree it was only successful due to the four “….tions”. Thanks Dick for bringing back a great memory and reminding us of what it took. One real lesson is that we all learned what it was like to be in a hot and dirty factory and sometimes in leadership we do not have a real appreciation of what goes on in a manufacturing floor. It was a successful times in many ways.

    • Dick Wells says:

      I welll remember that you had to do two jobs: time on the floor and time in the office closing the books. I think all of us appreciated the manufacturing team a lot more after the strike.

  2. Mitch says:

    That’s a great story. It’s not the same but early in my career I was a Sr. Finance Analyst at FedEx in Memphis and every year right before Christmas in “peak season” we would be asked to volunteer in the hub to sort and load packages. Being out of the office and out on the tarmac in 15 degree weather to help “get the job done” along side the hourly associates not only taught me a lot, it was an extremely effective team building activity that endeared me to my company and team. A lot of lessons there for sure.

    • Dick Wells says:

      Mitch, I grew up with farmers and refinery workers, all blue collar. I have always loved and appreciated the people who make it happen on the floor. A little dirt on my shirt didn’t hurt me at all.

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