Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on September 2, 2014
Much has been written about the characteristics of effective leaders. One of these characteristics is a leader’s ability to relate to their employees, as well as act in a way so that their employees can relate to them.
When situations arise that permit your employees to relate to you, take advantage of the moment. I recall the day I held a town hall meeting at one of our plants two days after we shut down one of the plant’s production units, resulting in the layoff of 17 hourly production and maintenance employees. As then COO of PQ Corporation, I wanted to explain that the shutdown was a result of a large customer exiting their business, and therefore they no longer required the product produced by that production unit.
To say the attendees at the town meeting were not very happy would be an understatement. At a tense moment, one of the hourly workers said to me, “What do you know about working in a chemical plant? All you do is sit behind a desk all day, push paper, and make decisions that affect the lives of others.” My immediate response was, “When I was a co-op student at Drexel University, I worked as an hourly worker in a plant like this one and learned much from the production and maintenance staff, so I do know what it’s like to work in a chemical plant.”