by Rachael Pfenninger, director of strategic execution, AMBA

In a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by Dr. Sunnie Giles, organizational scientist and leadership development consultant, titled, “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World,”1 the author suggests that while soft skills and emotional intelligence often are heralded as key leadership characteristics, recent research demonstrates that there really are five dominating themes of competencies exhibited by effective leaders. These include providing a safe, ethical environment; empowering individuals to self-organize; promoting connection and belonging among employees; being open to new ideas and experimentation; and committing to the professional and intellectual growth of employees.

This is quite a bit more analytical than what was written by leadership coach, consultant and CEO Peter Bregman in another HRB article. His headline makes a simpler argument – “Great Leaders Are Confident, Connected, Committed and Courageous.”2

Is either opinion more correct than the other? No – but why? While these two articles may outline what seem to be sets of different characteristics, they are driven by the same ideas. Great leaders put their employees first. They examine themselves, consider their faults and take seriously the feedback provided by others. At the same time, they are passionate about their mission, driving it forward and staying humble about their own leadership journey.

The themes summarized here were echoed in many of the AMBA Emerging Leaders Network’s 2021 Meet the Mentor sessions. During these meetings, executives from the AMBA community tackled the challenges facing today’s emerging manufacturing professionals and walked attendees through the best practices and conflict resolution strategies developed throughout their own careers.

While the topics spanned varying areas of focus – lean
principles, accountability, risk management and team communication – the message often was the same. First, empowered teams and employees provide greater organizational impact. Second, humble leaders open to new ideas and feedback foster heightened respect, encourage participation and generate positive, bottom-line-impacting change. And third, leaders passionate about their mission inspire those around them, regardless of their status within the organization.

Because it’s difficult to independently pursue the constant journey of learning and self-evaluation, AMBA will continue to provide practical application opportunities through a “Lunchtime Leadership” series in 2022. This series will provide AMBA’s Emerging Leaders with the continuing support needed to put into practice the lessons taught by these industry mentors.

All speakers will outline their own personal leadership journeys and touch on specific themes (examples include culture transformation, women in manufacturing, financial growth and stability and others). Attendees will have the chance to connect with one another, describe their own experiences, highlight best practices and participate in facilitated, all-group discussion.

Ultimately, what this year’s Emerging Leaders Network has learned from the mentors is that the effectiveness of any leadership journey relies not just on an understanding of basic leadership principles and a willingness to embrace them, but a review of their practical application in a safe space with feedback from their colleagues. The Emerging Leaders Network intends to provide this space so that the industry’s emerging professionals, with the help of their colleagues and those who have walked the path before them, can continue to advance into the upper echelons of their organizations and create the kinds of workplaces that attract next-generation workers.

To view AMBA’s upcoming events for the Emerging Leaders Network, visit Questions? Contact Rachael Pfenninger, administrator of the Emerging Leaders Network, at [email protected].


1. The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World (

2. Great Leaders Are Confident, Connected, Committed and Courageous (

Takeaways from Final Meet the Mentor Session, “Leaning into Leadership”

While the themes from the discussion mirrored past mentor conversations, several specific takeaways came out of the recent October Meet the Mentor session, “Leaning into Leadership.” A few of the points are outlined below. 

  • 70% of lean initiatives fail because the culture is unwilling to shift; tools can be promoted and taught, but they are all just tools in the toolbox if companies don’t practice working with them.
  • A focus on failing quickly encourages trying new ideas; creating safety in risk-taking will encourage innovation, positive change and employee empowerment.
  • Employees are stuck in their positions for a very long time when they act like “mushrooms.” Remember: very few people have been fired for bringing an idea to the table and failing.
  • Learning the language of senior management and getting really good at calculating ROI will help opinions be heard by critical decision-makers; money matters most to management.
  • If an employee wants to advance, it’s important to take control of one’s mentorship and career path. Remember to ask:
    • Are you in the right role?
    • Are you really enjoying what you’re doing?
    • Are you personally committed to delivering?
    • Are you differentiating yourself?
    • Are you thinking forward?
  • Following the better/faster/cheaper process allows companies to do more with less (i.e., higher production with the same or less workforce).
  • Staying focused on top revenue-generating customers and streamlining the communication process can dramatically increase profit and improve the quality
    of customer relationships.
  • Implement visual management to drive goal setting and achievement (for example, workstation tablets, physical huddle boards for teams, etc.).
  • Employees – especially emerging professionals – shouldn’t be ashamed or reluctant to promote what’s been accomplished to company management. This communication helps them see what they might otherwise miss.