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What blue collar America can teach us about leadership

May 29, 2017
Borderless Leadership

In rural and “Rust Belt” America, “doing” jobs in industries like farming, warehouse work, and manufacturing can greatly outnumber “thinking” jobs.

The divide can be dramatic — many blue-collar workers and regions feel they have little to nothing in common with white collar workers and metropolitan areas, and vice versa. With different values, political leanings, and lifestyles, the contrast can be stark.

Many white collar workers, who tend to earn higher incomes, assume that their working-class counterparts have little to contribute to business leadership strategy. However, white collar leadership can learn a lot from the habits and codes of the blue-collar lifestyle. Here are a few ways that paying attention to blue collar America can teach us something about business leadership.

Honesty
One of the most commonly-touted values of blue collar workers is speaking the truth at all times. Being a “straight shooter” is a source of pride, since being honest in your interactions takes courage, strength, and moral fortitude. It’s a lot easier to lie to keep an employee, manager, or client happy. It can be tougher, albeit more effective, to simply be honest.

Despite the supposed value of white lies and twisting the truth to get ahead in business, the fact is that honesty really is the best policy, especially in white collar work. “As a part of our leadership efforts, we have an open-door policy. We want our employees to approach us with the good and bad, so as leaders of the organization we can ensure a transparent and honest environment,” states Charles Anderson, CEO of Currency Capital and founder of CEMC, a leading industry think tank. Eighty-nine percent of people value honesty above all else in their leaders, as integrity and ethics in leadership can affect employee turnover, stress, motivation, and other factors that contribute to a company’s overall success.

Strong Work Ethic
A significant value in blue collar America is that of a hard day’s work. Blue collar workers take pride in working with their hands, getting dirty for a cause, and putting in a full day. According to Anderson, “If everyone in America had the work ethic that’s found in the average mechanic garage or manufacturing plant, we’d be in an even better place.” In a way, it’s an act of dignity: getting dirty proves that you have worked hard and deserve your compensation. In essence, any evidence of working harder than everyone else is a badge of honor.

This work ethic is extremely valuable in leaders in any industry. Although it’s important to maintain a professional image, being willing to go above and beyond in your own tasks and in managing employees pays off. And letting yourself earn badges of honor — awards, presentations, and just staying late once in awhile, for instance — will not only bolster your own reputation among leadership and employees, but also contribute to the company as a whole. Taking it upon yourself to try to ensure the success of others and the business in general is an excellent aspect of a blue collar mentality to adopt.

Moral Code
Another trait among blue collar workers is having a near-unwavering moral code. With a focus on being fundamentally good-hearted people — as well as religious connotations that can manifest themselves in community contributions — blue collar America prides itself as having strong morals. Although this can manifest itself in political ways, just focusing on the concept of maintaining strong values tied to the social good can be greatly beneficial for white collar leadership.

For instance, leaders with a clear, moral mission will inspire employees to invest more into their work. Providing something bigger to work towards — whether that is contributing to the community or simply improving the self — can spark innovation and passion among office workers. An inspired employee can be much more productive than an uninspired one.

Further, bolstering respect for leadership among employees by embodying strong morals can help motivate those employees to work harder. This is simply due to the fact that people like working for good people. Bolstering employee morale and respect should be a priority for businesses, as this contributes to the overall good of the company.

Community
Many blue collar workers feel strong ties and obligations to their communities. From family units to towns, people living in blue collar America place high levels of importance on where they live and with whom they associate. These ties then influence almost every aspect of daily life, including work — many blue collar businesses focus on “joint coordinated action” between community members to achieve goals.

Taking this page out of the book of the blue collar lifestyle can only be helpful to leadership. Strong team leaders are often described as ones that help a team “click” and facilitate open communication and shared tasks; in fact, collaboration among employees contributes to improved job performance and job satisfaction. As Anderson emphasizes, “I believe it’s important to highlight our united efforts as a whole. We try to accomplish this through daily stand-ups and company wide meetings to keep everyone accountable and to remind them that the company goal is a collaborative effort.” By creating a sense of community at work, leaders can better pursue company goals.

The tendency of white collar industry to look down on blue collar business greatly limits its potential. By paying attention to the beneficial characteristics of blue collar America, leadership can facilitate happier teams and healthier companies.

By Brian Rashid

Source: Forbes

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