Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Leadership Without Words

Ah yes, summer. Some of my friends are relaxing at home, rejuvenating from a busy semester. Others are studying abroad. Then, there is the hand-full that stay in town to take summer classes. All of these are common ways to spend your summer, however there is also what I would consider the most common summer option for college students…working!


This summer on June 1, I started my summer internship with Cargill Meat Solutions in Wichita KS.


What have I been up to in my internship? Well, they haven’t had me making copies or filing information yet, so I would say I am pretty fortunate thus far (that, or they just realized early on I am not good with printers, copiers, or many other forms of technology).


Actually, I am a Human Resources intern specializing in the Learning and Development side of HR. Another term you could call this position is a corporate trainer. Here in Wichita, there unfortunately are no other corporate trainers. Due to the economy they had to downsize, so as of right now, I’m the only one out of the thousands of employees in the Wichita offices working on training curriculum for the next year.


Some people in my situation may be nervous and timid to really run with the opportunity of being able to do all the curriculum development on their own. Well, some people may feel that way, but as you have probably already guessed, that isn’t at all how I feel! I am LOVING having the freedom to really be creative and use my past experiences and knowledge to develop curriculum that can be taught by others at plants for their new hires and supervisors.


I would love to tell you in detail everything I have created thus far; however, I would have to kill you. Ok, maybe not that drastic of a result if I tell, however my brain and thoughts completely belong to Cargill this summer…so it kind of is top secret. J


One of the coolest experiences I have had thus far was this past week which I spent in Springdale Arkansas touring their plant. Springdale has 1,300 Cargill employees—kind of like a small city as the HR folks there described it. During the week I spent there I got to tour all the Ag Live Operations (the hatchery, growers, and feed mill). My proudest moment was walking into a barn of 6,000 mature tom turkeys weighing around 45 lbs. each! If I said I wasn’t scared then I would be lying BIG time! No worries, I made it out with all ten fingers and only managed to lose three toes.


  Another part of the week I spent touring the processing plant. IT WAS HUGE! The HR Manager of the operation, Carlos, gave me my tour. As we went through the many different rooms we passed countless employees. Carlos would wave, say hello to them, joke around, and ask about their family or weekends.

Now remember, there are some 1,300 employees there! These workers represent 13 different countries and there are 9 different languages spoken. Carlos had been working at this plant for almost 3 years. I was BLOWN AWAY by how connected Carlos and his employees are. Carlos is in upper management, yet he strongly believes in spending quality time on the floor with his employees. While we sat in his office to discuss some future training programs, workers would walk by the window and wave with a really big smile!

 Carlos is bi-lingual, yet his connection with his employees has no limiting lines. The people working at the Springdale plant in Arkansas are a perfect example of what it means for a company to truly value and appreciate their employees.


One of Cargill’s goals is to value differences. The most powerful part of my visit in Springdale was learning about the many different cultures and how they all can come together to produce their end product harmoniously. There are positions in the plant call “frontline supervisors.” These supervisors are in charge of different lines of the plant. For example, the line that packages the ground turkey is a line. Many of the lines are made up of some 6-14 employees. As you can image, not all of these employees speak the same language. Not all of the supervisors speak the same language as the people they are leading. However, these supervisors have found ways to lead their people using a language different than words.


Walking through the plant Carlos pointed out a middle aged man who is now in charge of the shipping and receiving department. “That is Steve. He started out as a line supervisor,” said Carlos. “He has been one of my best. He only speaks English, and yet his people loved him. He just knows how to make employees feel valued without saying it in words, but showing it in actions and a constant smile.”


Steve was goofing around with some of the employees as we were walking by. It was clear that they all absolutely adored him, and yet none of them spoke English. Amazing! Leading people is hard enough as it is, but perhaps we make it harder than it should be. People like Steve don’t need any fancy words to impress their constituents. No, rather they choose to capitalize on the simpler things like smiling, sharing their lunch, playing innocent tricks on each other, and making yourself an equal rather than a superior. All of these are the non-verbal ways a leader succeeds.


My Springdale trip taught me many different lessons: 1) keep your toes covered when in barns full of adult tom turkeys, 2) People don’t have to come from the same place to work together to create a superior product, and 3) leaders can be successful using more than words.


There are no language barriers when you are wearing a smile.”—Allen Klein


I look forward to the many more new lessons this summer’s internship teaches  me. Whatever you have chosen to do this summer, remember that our greatest learning’s can be in the most unexpected places! 

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