The outstanding Managing Director blueprint in Engineering and Manufacturing

Recently I dived into a report from McKinsey and looked at how their research can be applied to creating a blueprint for an excellent CEO in engineering and manufacturing. A CEO is the driver of vision and steers the business direction. However, their success is either facilitated or hindered by the key players around them.

The Managing Director (MD) is perhaps the most instrumental figure for ensuring and supporting the CEO’s vision. Therefore, in line with a blueprint for an excellent CEO, I thought it was also worth sharing my take on the blueprint for an outstanding MD.

Hands on, hands off
Whilst the role of the CEO sits entirely within the landscape of strategy, direction and vision, the MD is able to provide the bridge into implementing this within the organisation. As a result, he/she occupies an unusual position. The right hand is working in conjunction with the CEO (focusing on defining such things as goals and objectives), whilst the left hand is busy putting those goals and objectives into working practice.

As such, the role of the MD is incredibly multi-faceted and requires the individual to be just as skilled at being a peer to the most significant, senior and influential individual in the business, and at the same time being as skilled at motivating, guiding and delivering the team they lead. They have one hand in strategy and one in operations.

Another way of looking at it is to divide the CEO and the MD into today Vs tomorrow. The CEO can firmly place their attention on tomorrow. It’s the MD’s job to keep on top of what’s happening today (now), without neglecting where the business is aiming towards in the future.

Understanding the role of the MD in this context, gives insight into what makes a good MD. Within engineering and manufacturing, where highly technical individuals tend to progress through the ranks, it means accepting and identifying an additional range of skills and aptitudes.

Leadership focused on engagement and emotional intelligence
In engineering and manufacturing, routes for promotion are typically defined by technical expertise. This is needed and vital within industries reliant on highly specific skills and understanding.

However, it takes a unique calibre of individual to be skilled in the technical aspects of the specific business, as well as being skilled in leadership and the emotional intelligence needed to navigate this leadership role. Very little research digs into this conundrum, yet it’s central to the blueprint of an outstanding MD in any technical field.

We know that engagement is pivotal to the MD’s success; they must be capable of engaging and motivating a large and diverse workforce. And emotional intelligence (EQ) is central to someone’s ability to engage others.

This is where the data gets really interesting for our sector. A research study of more than 200 global companies found that EQ was four times as important in senior leadership positions compared to technical skills or cognitive ability.

It’s a harsh reality to face, but one to bear in mind; the best leaders in manufacturing and engineering, may not be the best technical geniuses. The soft skills they need for leadership must rest on a foundation of technical knowledge, yes, but soft skills are of paramount importance in their own right.

Therefore, the blueprint of an MD should give focus to emotional intelligence, self-awareness, ability to build and drive optimal teams and lead with positivity and motivation. Their interpersonal skills are vital. This will help to deliver the results that the CEO seeks.

Commercial intellect
Closely related and again resting on a foundation of technical knowledge and expertise, is insight and knowledge concerning the wider landscape. Commercial intellect in terms of the MD can be defined as the ability to take the figures and financials from the CEO and make them work in practice.

An MD can only make these figures work if they understand the industry, so that they become reality. This knowledge needs to be exceptional so that they can make decisions quickly and effectively.

This commercial intellect sits within a clear and realistic understanding of the business’s people and operational capabilities. The MD needs to balance the internal and external drivers of success. In many ways, the MD should understand the business and the wider industry and society at the highest level of all. They need to be outward looking, while also critically aware of what’s going on inside their own business.

Creative thinking
In the same way that a new engineering design is tackled creatively, executives need to take a creative approach to thinking about the business, direction and success. The CEO sets the vision and the MD will need to think creatively about how to make this work in practice. Fundamentally, this is often over-looked when recruiting managing directors.

There is a temptation to recruit an individual who will work safely within the box.
However, the most successful businesses have MDs who embrace innovation and welcome well thought out transformation. This takes enormous strength of character, resting on their own confidence in both their people and their operations.

Aligned vision and strategic approaches
As explained in the CEO blueprint discussion, in many ways the CEO occupies an isolated role. In successful organisations we notice something quite distinct: the close relationship between the CEO and the managing director.

In many ways, the MD can become the peer that the CEO needs. But it needs to be within a soundboard type role, where visions are shared and shaped but ultimately the MD fully backs and believes in the CEO’s wishes and strategy.

For those at the level of the MD, this can bring difficulties. An MD is in this executive position because of their leadership skills and personal ambition. Yet, at the very pinnacle of what they do, they occupy a supporting role. They need to wholeheartedly believe in and support the CEO’s objectives, vision and strategy as this will enable them to make it a reality. Ambition needs to be tempered and understood within the wider framework of the organisation.

The MD blueprint in action
As with all executive roles, it is easier to recruit the right individual into the role than attempt to shape them into who you want them to be after the fact. Within engineering and manufacturing there are immense nuances to understand when identifying the right MD in the context of the wider leadership team, the organisation and the objectives of the CEO.

It’s what I focus on and what ensures that the managing directors I recruit are the best at driving business direction and growth. If you need to find your next MD, give me a call to confidentially discuss: 07775 700707.

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