Responsible Freedom Realized

August 10, 2016
  • Sean Dice
  • Sean Dice
    Former Sr. Electrical Engineer at BW Integrated Systems

This post is the second in a series of posts exploring the points of the Leadership Checklist which we introduced in “Good Leadership: Why Leave It to Chance?” In this post, Sean Dice, a senior electrical engineer with BW Container Systems (now BW Integrated Systems)' Ambec product line, shares a story that shows the ripple effect of good leadership.

About a year ago, while onsite supporting a check-up and tune-up of one of our process installations, I had an unexpected conversation with Samantha, the quality lab manager. Samantha and I have known each other for quite a few years now, due to the number of process installations we have provided to her company.

It was a weekend, which wasn’t unusual for Samantha and the batch room manager Stephen. Samantha began telling me about the struggles she was having with the lab technicians who had come to rely on her to micromanage their work. Day in and day out, the lab techs would come to Samantha with questions about the simplest of procedures, even though they had performed all of the same tests and tasks repetitively for more than a year. Samantha asked for ideas on how to encourage her employees to take initiative and ownership of their daily tasks without expecting or wanting someone to look over their shoulder.

At this time the powerful mantra of Jim Schoeneweis, our electrical engineering director, popped into my head as though he were speaking through me. “You have responsible freedom,” he would say to me and my teammates time and time again. This simple statement reminded all of us of Barry-Wehmiller’s culture of encouraging team members to take ownership of their work, while keeping in mind their responsibility to their team and the organization.

Sean-dice-2-600x800I shared with Samantha my interpretation of responsible freedom. To me, the phrase means that we are all empowered with the freedom to make decisions for ourselves. We are trusted and valued team members who know how to identify and do the right thing. That, I explained, was the freedom part.

The responsible part is multi-faceted: we have a responsibility to conduct ourselves in such a way to prove we are worthy of the trust and freedom instilled in us. In addition, we should own our decisions and actions and expect that we will be held accountable for them all, good or bad. Jim’s role was one of partner and advisor, versus traditional authoritative manager. Samantha sat in silence for a moment and said she was going to have to think on that for a while.

A few months ago I returned to the company to provide some onsite training and troubleshooting. My first day in the plant, Samantha came into the office and said, “I am SOOO glad you are here!  I have to thank you.”

She asked if I remembered the conversation from a year ago.  “You know, the one where you told me about ‘responsible freedom’?”

“Of course,” I replied, as it had been a very powerful conversation.

Samantha explained how, after thinking about the concept of responsible freedom for some time, she adapted her leadership style to be a partner and teammate to the people that reported to her. Sam was so happy, and she explained to me how the performance of team could not be better. Everyone enjoyed coming to work! The lab was operating better than she could have ever hoped. As part of her new leadership style, she started “Sam’s Corner,” a bulletin board on which she proudly displayed the following:

Recently, Samantha left that company and took her leadership skills to a role with one of our largest brewery customers. She has no worries for the teammates she left behind. She said they had all embraced the culture of responsible freedom and the new lab manager plans to continue where Sam left off and encourage her teammates.

At that moment I could not have been happier to be a member of the BW Container Systems and Barry-Wehmiller teams. I was struck with the realization of how much trust Jim has for all of us and what that says about the strength of his leadership and the power of a culture that offers responsible freedom. Through it, we can realize our potential and, along the way, teach others within our sphere of influence how they can be tremendous leaders…like Jim Schoeneweis.

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