Sue Mucha

Do you know the quiet leaders? Often they are the ones who get things done.

In 1981, when I started in the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry, two things really surprised me. First was that EMS factories saw tomorrow’s tech before the rest of the world. Second was the amazing amount of knowledge resident on the factory floor. That second point always drives me to challenge folks who believe it is impossible to succeed without a college degree. As long as I’ve worked in EMS, I have been exposed to factory workers who learned on-the-job the same things I did in college.

A couple months ago, I had a great conversation with Lois Kenon, a rework/repair specialist at TeligentEMS in Havana, FL. She went to work in the service sector after high school, planning to try a few jobs before going to college, but ended up staying in manufacturing. We spent time talking about her leadership philosophy, and I felt it made sense to share some of that philosophy in my column.

Despite never attending college, Lois’s approach to leading her team reflects the same elements of leadership and behavioral theory I was taught in my master’s program, and she expresses it much more eloquently. A key difference is she learned it from work mentors, leadership classes at her church, and trial-and-error with her team. I think it is a great testament to the transformative nature of manufacturing jobs and that individuals who take initiative can really excel in a supportive manufacturing environment. Lois said it so much better than I could, so I’m going quote her philosophy verbatim.

Lois’s first rule of business is to share the enthusiasm. “Without great leadership, nothing happens, and I want to be that great leader. I want people to respect me. I come in with a great attitude, show respect and make sure my people have a great day.”

However, her enthusiasm is not without focus. “Focus is a big word. I look for tomorrow. Whatever you tolerate you will never change. I tolerate very little. However, I choose not to be heavy-handed. Instead, I choose to address behavioral issues in the appropriate way, and if you do that, your group has a great day.”

She also understands the value of addressing negativity early within the team. “I get rid of negativity and drama. I have zero tolerance for that. I try to help my people have the best day ever. Some days are not as good as others. I try not to let it overtake us. We can accomplish anything. We don’t have repeat bad days.”

She sees value in her team’s potential and works to prepare them for leadership roles. “I have a great group. Leaders train followers. I want my team to operate the same way whether I’m there or not.”

Lois recognizes the value of retaining good employees. “My pastor teaches leadership courses at my church. I see myself as a servant leader. I love what I do. It takes all of us. People feel the vibe of family or closeness. When people feel they belong, they do better. I believe that work value leads to job satisfaction. I don’t have a high turnover rate. My team members want to stay. I try to create an environment where the team enjoys what they do.”

Her parting words, when asked if she made the right choice in terms of choosing a manufacturing career over college, reflected the tutelage of those she once reported to.

“The path I’ve chosen has been a great opportunity for me to grow, identify and connect in the real world. I appreciate the fact that we are building products that make life easier for people. I’ve been a leader here for over 20 years. That is where I really specialize in my gift of work. I get to motivate. I get to supervise and monitor my achievement. I love coming up with new ideas and using my imagination to challenge my team to be better. TeligentEMS gives me that leeway to guide my people in growth. They trust me, and I love what I do. It is not by accident. I had good leaders who grew me into a leader, and now I teach others. It feels like a gift. I take pride in it. People depend on me.”

In my experience, every EMS company has one or two leaders like Lois, quietly driving outstanding performance on the manufacturing floor. I’m really pleased I was able to shine a light on one. The chief executive of TeligentEMS knows Lois by name and understands how valuable a team member she is. A good question every EMS executive should ask themselves is, Do I know the quiet leaders on my manufacturing floor?

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (powell-muchaconsulting.com), a consulting firm providing strategic planning, training and market positioning support to EMS companies, and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; smucha@powell-muchaconsulting.com.

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