Listening is the key to leadership
Irv KiebackIrvKieback spent 36 years at Procter & Gamble. He worked in six different locations and had multiple assignments in engineering, manufacturing management, and IT. Among other projects, he oversaw the shutdown of a major manufacturingfacility and led the development of SAP for Procter & Gamble’s NorthAmerican manufacturing plants. Pragmatic Consultants, LLC. is his current position. This small consulting firm focuses on program and project management, engineering leadership, team development, and organization.
Thelate Alexander Laufer is the author of seven books about project management. He sat down with Irv to learn how he learned to be a leader. This article is based on Irv Laufer’sinterviews. It describes Irv’s growing appreciation for listening as a key project management practice.
Amazing ability to sit down and talk
Irv Kieback was just starting his career at Procter & Gamble. Most of his higher-ups were businessmen telling you what to do. Charlie Wagers was the exception to this rule. “We’d go down to his house and have fish fries and play volleyball tournaments,” Irv says. We went to his farm to catch crabs and then had a boil for the entire department. Irv recalls that Charlie was our manager and friend, but also a friend. That intrigues me. That combination was unique because he cared about people. Irv was impressed by Charlie’s “amazing ability just to sit down and talk”. It taught him the importance of listening when managing people.
Listen to What They Say
Irv was first time managing anyone when he was sent to Green Bay as a maintenancemanager. He was put in charge of 15-20 craftspeople–carpenters, masons,machinists, millwrights. Irv was only 25 years old when he was assigned to manage a group of 50-to-60-year-old workers. He turned to his father, an inspector at Western Electric Telephone Cable, for help. His father had spent a lifetime dealingwith many of the same issues that impacted his newcrew. His father’s advice to him was simple: Listen. He said, “Listen to what they have. Ask them what they need and how you can help. This resonated with me because Charlie taught me the importance of listening. Irv was able to get off to a great start thanks to Charlie’s role model and his father’s advice.
Learning and Digging in
Twenty-five years later, Irv was asked to lead the installation of a new ITsystem that would eventually be rolledout for all US Procter & Gamble manufacturing facilities. He was named project leader and waited for the arrival of the IT leader who was completing a major software installation in the finance sector.
Irv spent his time talking to people before his IT counterpart arrived. “I interviewed all the leaders and asked them what they were trying to achieve. What are the problems with the project. What’s working well? What do you think we need to do? “He spent two months “learning and digging into and talking tofolks. ”
The IT leader then showed up. “He looked around for about three days,” said Irv. “Then he declared, AoWhat are you doing in IT is allwrong. I have just completed a similar project and know what to do. Irv says that this didn’t work.
My group had product supplypeople. They were responsible for planning, purchasing, manufacturing, and training. His IT leadership was part of his group. One day, three IT leaders came to myoffice and closed the door. One of them said, “We want you to work for us,”
“What are you talking about?” ” Irv aske