MRO Magazine

Can you be user-friendly?

These days, "user-friendliness" is a valued commodity. User-friendly appliances, computers, customer service and information help save time and increase comfort.These early years of the twenty-first c...


April 1, 2002
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

These days, “user-friendliness” is a valued commodity. User-friendly appliances, computers, customer service and information help save time and increase comfort.

These early years of the twenty-first century are bringing increased attention to another new phenomenon: the user-friendly leader. Call this style of leadership anything you want — accessible, open or front-line — but it has the same valued characteristics as so many other user-friendly commodities of this age.

Ask yourself: Are you a user-friendly leader? Does your leadership style add value, convenience, and results to the people around you? Not sure? Think about these traits of user-friendly leaders — you may want to build as many of them as possible into your own work style to help create a more effective maintenance operation in your organization.

The open door. User-friendly leaders keep an open door, symbolically and literally. They pride themselves on accessibility to employees and staff, and they’re constantly looking for ways to encourage others to drop by.

The loose tie. User-friendly leaders know that formality can, at times, become a barrier to effective communication. So these leaders are quick to adopt a casual style of dress (always keeping within their organizations’ practices) and demeanor. Some loose-tie leaders have even been known to sport “Talk to Me” buttons on their shirts to encourage communication.

Down and dirty. User-friendly leaders are not afraid to become involved in the thicket of problem-solving. They’ll set up ad-hoc work teams, conduct brainstorming sessions, experiment, and push for unconventional solutions until the problems are solved. And they’ll stay intimately involved the whole time.

In the trenches. Although it’s not their immediate responsibility, these leaders occasionally work alongside their employees, partly to gain insight into their jobs and partly to demonstrate an interest in what they do each day. These leaders also take the time to participate in after-hours activities, like employee dinners, bowling leagues, or other social activities.

The quick laugh. To the user-friendly leader, the occasional joke and regular recollection of humorous incidents is part and parcel of the job. These leaders know how to laugh and how to create relaxed work environments.

Never-ending learning. A “learning culture” is present in many twenty-first century organizations, from mega-factories to the smallest of shops. User-friendly leaders embrace this philosophy. They never stop learning, and they’re quick to acquire new skills — from technology skills to people skills — alongside their employees.

Real guys and gals. User-friendly leaders don’t sit on lofty symbolic platforms. They share their thoughts and interests with the people around them, and are quick to talk about everything from current business concerns to last week’s soccer game with the kids.

Great relationships. User-friendly leaders do more than communicate well. They get to know the people around them and understand their concerns, fears, and ambitions. They’re quick to foster relationships and do whatever they can to help their people become more satisfied with the roles they play.

Humility. If there’s ever a mystique about the all-knowing leader, user-friendly leaders do their best to dispel it. They know that expertise in today’s knowledge economy rests with the entire team, from highly skilled technicians to folks at the front counter. They’re never afraid to ask for advice and help from any source, and they’re quick to acknowledge that they need it.

Love of tradition. User-friendly leaders know that customs and traditions help build a sense of stability within their organizations. Weekly staff meetings, quarterly awards ceremonies, time-honored courtesies as employees come and go each day, for example, are valued by user-friendly leaders eager to leave their people with a sense of security and satisfaction.

So ask yourself: Are you a user-friendly leader? Do you demonstrate the traits of openness and front-line management so necessary for success today? To be sure, positive leadership means more than practicing user-friendly habits. But for a contemporary leader, these habits are a great place to start; they can quickly become building blocks for the morale and productivity characteristic of the best organizations.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.