The Hidden Value of Leadership Development

By Rachael Pfenninger, director of strategic execution, AMBA

Despite the sophistication of the US mold manufacturing industry, many of its executives would not necessarily use the word “sophisticated” to describe themselves in terms of management skill or financial prowess. How is that possible in such a specialized and technical field where companies are handling millions in material annually and employing a workforce that becomes more varied by the day?

Although many US mold manufacturers have decades of experience, most came up “through the ranks” – either as family members learning from earlier generations or through extremely specific training in areas like CNC machining, polishing, tool design or any number of other roles critical to the completion of a mold.

Because of this “learning-on-the-job” mentality, most of America’s mold manufacturing executives intimately understand the technical components of what it takes to make a mold, but often lack the management and leadership training that supports navigating today’s domestic and global moldmaking industry.

As running a mold manufacturing business grows more challenging amidst foreign competition, falling profitability and a shrinking workforce, today’s executives are realizing that the next generation will need more support than ever – particularly as companies look less for skilled labor and instead for employees that fit the company culturally and can be integrated into future succession plans.

In consideration of this, the AMBA Emerging Leaders Network and its Advisory Board intentionally create annual opportunities for all emerging professionals to access some degree of management and/or leadership training. This year, one of those opportunities was offered in the form of a virtual series, provided by Kelly McDaniel, president of DeLisaGroup.

As a specialist in leadership and management skills training, as well as employee recruitment and retention strategies, McDaniel is uniquely positioned to provide valuable insight to AMBA’s emerging professionals. With her guidance, attendees of her recent virtual series, Management Fundamentals for Emerging Leadership, walked away with applicable methods for supervising and motivating others, communicating with peers, team leads and executives and managing others for accountability.

“Managers so often struggle with the right supervisory style, and without the right mentality or training, there can be enormous cost associated with misguided management,” explained McDaniel. “But with an understanding of the styles that are being employed vs. those that could be utilized, such a difference can be made in how one’s workforce feels, how its team members perform and, ultimately, how they impact the bottom line.”

McDaniel’s emphasis on supervisory style and its impact isn’t misguided. According to a Gallup study of one million workers cited by Inc., a whopping 75% of employees have quit due to a poor manager. When coupled with research by the Society of HR Management (SHRM) that argues replacing an employee could be equal to 50-60% of that position’s annual salary, (Plus overall costs that range from 90-100% of that position’s salary!), suddenly the cost of leadership training – and the potential to keep all of those unhappy, mismanaged employees – becomes a significantly less expensive investment.

In addition to supervisory style, McDaniel addressed other skills critical for successful management, including communication flow and style and the development of listening as a skill. To work on these skills, McDaniel suggested that session attendees give this process (specifically, the “Describe and Ask” technique) a try in their working environment. For some who shared during a peer-to-peer session the following week, practicing these skills turned out to be an eye-opening experience.

“I was really looking forward to this, and what I learned was actually two-fold,” stated Patrick Brisson, United Tool and Mold (Liberty, South Carolina). “First, the result of the exercise – practicing a questioning technique taught in one of our sessions – was that I realized I’m not spending enough time sharing good news with my team. I’m always focused on emergencies, and it has made the guys almost dread me coming into a room – which is obviously not what I want!”

Brisson went on to share more. “The second part of what I learned was larger than that though. I have to be more intentional with my team and about how I interact with them. Management isn’t just about ‘managing’ – the day-to-day job stuff. It’s about developing a relationship with each employee, understanding how I make him or her feel and then using that as a motivational tool. And honestly, this process helps our entire team and it makes me better at what I do, too.”

What Brisson highlighted about this experience goes beyond these sessions and touches on the mission of the AMBA Emerging Leaders Network, which is to provide continued development opportunities for emerging professionals within US mold manufacturing. Rarely are these one-off learning events! Session by session, attendees learn how to better support their teams, impact the bottom line and embrace all aspects of the business – not just the technical role for which they’ve been groomed.

2024 Preview: Conference Pre-Con, Leadership Retreat and More
In 2024, the AMBA Emerging Leaders Network will again plan a variety of connection and development opportunities for emerging professionals in US mold manufacturing. For those interested in meeting in person, it’s time to save the date for March 19, 2024, Grand Rapids, Michigan, when members will join a pre-conference session at AMBA Conference 2024 on building accountability, dealing effectively with conflict and tension and peer relationship management.

Later in the year, Network members will meet for its bi-annual Leadership Retreat, a one-and-a-half-day workshop that will guide attendees through leadership principles critical in manufacturing.

Stay tuned for more details on this event, set to take place in late June 2024, and other 2024 AMBA Emerging Leaders events at

DeLisaGroup is a team of organizational development experts offering consult to a diverse range of businesses looking to improve their workplace culture and productivity. For more information on how DeLisaGroup helps businesses and their managers, visit or email