Just a few weeks before, I had made a call to inquire about riding a bull somewhere on a Saturday afternoon for my 40th birthday.  The gentleman asked me two questions: 1) Did I have medical insurance; and 2) How many people would be coming to watch? Satisfied with my answers, he told me he would get back to me.  I had always wanted to ride a bull, and I was not getting any younger.

Now, in front of hundreds of spectators at the T. Ed Garrison Arena in Clemson, SC., I nodded for the gate to open as I sat tightly secured to the back of a bull named Redneck, with what was known as the “suicide wrap”.  The bull turned left, then right, then commenced into a tight spin.  After 6-seconds he was able to throw me off.  His hind feet came down between my legs as I landed flat on my back.  A great ride!  Exceeding all expectations for my first and only bull-ride, I was just thankful he did not throw me off coming out of the chute!

Leading in manufacturing is very much like riding a bull.  It is a fast-paced, unforgiving environment, yet with great rewards, incessant adrenaline, and lots of room for fun.  Its challenges are unique, with no time-outs, nor do-overs.  You just get in, tie on, and hold on.  The rewards are tremendous and personal satisfaction of knowing you had a hand in producing a quality, product is second to none.

What will you lead your organization through today? How about one of these:

–          machine crashes

–          southern “Armageddon” ice-storm

–          leadership changes

–          workplace fatality

–          power outage

–          a rogue supervisor

–          doing more with less

–          employee love-triangles

–          operating short-staffed

–          complaint from a regulatory agency

–          motivating temporary employees

–          shift-wars

–          alleged favoritism

–          quality spills

–          severe weather

–          loss of critical talent

After several years of consistent growth in volume, record-setting sales and profit, we were “living high on the hog”, as they say.  We were an award-winning, flagship facility.  Nevertheless, we were more proud of our team for what was yet to come, than our so-called “achievements” from our previous years of success.  As we were fighting our way through a recession with the rest of the world, we were gearing up for a new product launch and volume uplift. With ever-increasing pressure to reduce costs, freeze hiring, and delay spending we did what it took to be ready for the start of production.  Just then – it happened, a leadership change at the top.  This was when we learned that perhaps it is better to be without a leader and let the team step up and do what it knows it needs to do, rather than have a leader in place who won’t lead, make tough decisions, nor delegate.  As things went from bad to worse, within 7 months we experienced yet another leadership change, but by then the team had successfully delivered on our mission.  We held on!  We were sore afterwards, healing was required, but it was an awesome ride.

It can kill you if you let it, but we thrived on the adrenaline and grew stronger as team. Where else can one go from hero to zero and back to hero in record-time?

For years’ afterward I was repeatedly asked why there was a small bull-rider decal on the door of my office.  My response was that it is a gentle reminder to be prepared for practically anything that may be coming my way today.

Go ride that bull!