The Leadership Factor in Turnarounds

John O. Whitney wrote THE book on leadership and management during turnarounds. He believes, “how the new leader solves these problems when his predecessors have failed will be the result of a skilled blend of style and substance.” He also believes leadership during turnarounds is vastly different from that of day-to-day operations, and so do we. Learn what to do and why by reading our guide on the leadership factor in turnarounds below.

Top Qualities in Turnaround Leaders

There is no one great leadership factor in turnarounds because every leader is different. However, good qualities for turnaround leaders certainly include:

  1. People skills – easy to communicate with, open door policy, gives praise and critique accordingly.
  2. Honest and transparent – they say what they will do, then do it.
  3. Decisive – will gather data before making a decision, but for the most part, decisions will be final when made.
  4. Result- driven – goals are quantified and spoken.
  5. Delegates and motivates – assigns tasks with benefits and consequences outlined.
  6. Accepts responsibility – does not blame others – ever.
  7. Team player – is open to input and collaborates with contractors and plant personnel.
  8. Innovative – knows that just because it was done one way in the past does not mean it must be done identically now.

Good Leaders Are Hands-on

Good turnaround leaders do not sit in an ivory tower. They should be accessible and have first-hand control of as many activities as possible. Leaders should give their meticulous and frequent attention to all primary functions. Key numbers and operating expenditures will be known off the top of their heads. Good leaders also ask many relevant questions and have a hand in most major tasks. Management practices may be out dated and conflicting, and leaders should not be afraid to break them. They may not have all the answers, but they know how and where to get them.

Good Leaders Have Budget Control

A turnaround leader should have a good grasp on every aspect of the budget. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Place stringent yet reasonable controls on operating expenditures.
  • Cancel any previously approved spending by other managers unless it has been re-approved in writing by the new leader.
  • Review other capital projects that are underway and decide if cancelling, continuing, or modifying is appropriate.
  • Approve purchase orders greater than set threshold for large organizations. Approve all purchase orders for smaller organizations.
  • Develop inspections to prevent circumvention of the purchase order or other purchasing systems.
  • If budgets are pushing the upper limit, freeze salaries and ask to approve any new hires, contractors, or other employee related expenses.

Good Leaders Have Confidence in Themselves and Others

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author, professor at Harvard Business School and chair and director of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative has been inside nearly two-dozen turnarounds over recent years and found something interesting: worker’s confidence in the plant was essential to successful turnarounds. It was important for workers to not only be confident in themselves, but each other – amd especially management. This confidence was also critical when dealing with investors, inspectors, or the public. In a sense, there also had to be a psychological turnaround in addition to the planned one.

In her writings, Kanter used an example where a turnaround suffered a blow, and fingers began to point. Tensions escalated, turfs were established, and isolation ensued. It would all lead to a disastrous end via collective denial unless something changed.

The only way to change this impending negative outcome was to change the turnaround leadership and sub sequentially the downward momentum. Kanter found successful leaders replaced secrecy with dialogue, blame with respect, turf protection with collaboration, and passivity with initiative.

There are obviously many types of leadership styles and it would be wrong to say that only one is right. However, in our experience, these top 3 leadership qualities usually guarantee a positive outcome.

Working with the right contractors can also make or break a turnaround. With over 40 years’ of turnarounds under our belts, AMCACS understands the factors that contribute to successful turnarounds. We have the experience and expertise to provide replacement in kind equipment or produce the most advanced engineered products required for your plant. Contact our turnaround team 24/7 to discuss how we can assist with all of your tower internal needs.