Supervisor Challenges in the Manufacturing Industry

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The understanding of the role that a leader plays in the workplace environment has become significantly more nuanced over the past few decades., leading to the creation of new leadership styles and prompting the discussion of the unique challenges that the contemporary business environment implies for leaders. When applied to the setting of the manufacturing industry, the problems that leaders and particularly supervisors face can be summarized as the issue of control and the promotion of workplace ethics and engagement.

For this reason, considering different sources of workplace confrontations, the roles that supervisors play in managing them, and the leadership strategies that they can apply is essential. Due to the opportunity to unite staff members and make them feel invested in the goals and needs of an organization, the Servant Leadership style should be seen as the foundational one.

Gender and Leadership: On Sex-Based Oppression in the Workplace Environment

Addressing the challenges that a supervisor is likely to face in the environment of the manufacturing industry is impossible without mentioning the problem of the glass ceiling. The phenomenon of the glass ceiling is typically defined essentially as a metaphor for the barriers and obstacles that women specifically have to overcome in order to advance in their careers (Pritchett, 2019). It should be mentioned that, initially, the term of the glass ceiling was coined to denote specifically the struggles that women face when attempting at advancing in their career and facing discrimination (Wood, 2016).

However, as the exploration of inequalities in the workplace evolved, the term became more inclusive, embracing other types of discrimination, such as the challenges faced by racial and ethnic minorities (Eagly & Carli, 2007).

On the one hand, the observed trend allows managing the instances of institutional discrimination more effectively since it helps to encompass a broader range of issues. On the other hand, the expansion of the concept of the glass ceiling and the vulnerable groups that it should include shifts the focus from the fight for the rights of women in the workplace, thus reducing the efficacy of the efforts made to fight against sex-based oppression.

Nonetheless, the problem of sex-based oppression remains a contentious issue in a range of modern companies despite the efforts to promote equity in the business and offer staff members equal opportunities. Therefore, as a leader, one has to address the situations that may potentially involve the exploitation of the said inequalities by managers, staff members, or any other participants of business transactions.

In the manufacturing industry context, the problem of the glass ceiling has been in place even with the attempts at leveling the workplace environment (Eagly & Carli, 2007). The presence of rigid stereotypes and biases is one of the main reasons why women are underrepresented and undervalued in the manufacturing industry, according to the study by Pritchett (2019). Thus, as a leader, one is necessitated to ensure that the leadership style adopted within the target setting allows taking the needs of female workers into consideration.

Toxic Leadership

While staying on the subject of undervaluing certain staff members on the basis of their personal characteristics, it is necessary to mention that a leader in the manufacturing industry has to be particularly wary of the threat of becoming toxic. Due to the presence of multiple factors that demand a leader’s undivided attention, as well as the strenuous setting, in general, it is disturbingly easy for a leader to succumb to toxic behaviors, as the research by Lipman-Blumen (2004) warns. Not only does toxic leadership affect people directly, often reducing their self-worth and incapacitating them as team members, it also has a detrimental influence on a company’s performance (Wood, 2016).

The study by Lipman-Blumen (2004) indicates that toxic leadership is ubiquitous and often impossible to address due to the lack of agency among the team members within the manufacturing industry. Moreover, the author points out that toxic leaders are particularly dangerous since they thrive by building teams of followers, who support their actions and create an echo chamber where the ideas that a toxic leader promotes reverberate without being brought into questioning or noticed by the company (Lipman-Blumen, 2004). As a result, the well-being of subordinates and the efficacy of projects is heavily jeopardized.

In order to avoid the scenarios that involve toxic leadership, it is highly recommended to be critical of one’s chosen manner of leading a team. Specifically, one has to revisit one’s values and ethical standards for communication with staff members. Thus, the threat of creating an environment that may turn out to be potentially toxic will be avoided. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that the phenomenon of toxic leadership is not necessarily displayed by specific people with bad attitudes, who are incapable of performing the basic duties of a leader.

While the described situation and the described type of leaders still exist, in most cases, toxic leadership can be used, often unknowingly, by regular leaders, who are unaware of the harm that they produce with their choices (Lipman-Blumen). Therefore, according to Pritchett (2017), it should be an essential objective of each leader to ensure that the inclination toward toxic behaviors is identified immediately and addressed before it grows out of proportion. Namely, the author suggests the strategies such as creating an environment in which team members can point a leader or the person to the problem of toxic behavior.

Another important aspect of leadership that is rarely addressed yet is crucial for the successful management of workplace tasks and business projects is the focus on spirituality. Since it is critical to increase the extent to which employees are invested in the corporate processes and the performance of an organization, appealing to their emotional needs is a legitimate part of increasing employees’ engagement. Indeed, since spirituality is a crucial part of personal development, a supervisor needs to identify the necessity for the introduction of tools for spiritual growth in the workplace setting.

In fact, the assessment of the levels of spirituality within an organizational setting of a manufacturing company can lead to important conclusions about the environment in which staff members work. It should also be noted that the idea of spirituality in this context is not defined in its narrow sense as the use of religious practices but, instead, is used to denote the enhancement of the employees’ emotional and cognitive development. For instance, Ngunjiri (2010) explains the concept of spirituality as the “relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents” (p. 7).

However, while the idea of transforming leaders into moral agents might seem good in theory, it requires delving deeper into the concept of morality and ethics in the workplace. If by the transformation of leaders into moral beacons that staff members should see as an example Ngunjiri implies the opportunity to encourage accepting corporate ethics, the specified change can be seen a positive and even crucial. Indeed, in the realm of the organizational setting, decision-making in which staff members often have to participate hinges on the philosophy and ethical standards that a company views as its priority.

Therefore, it is crucial that employees understand the foundational moral and ethical values that a company promotes. In the environment of the manufacturing industry, the specified principles of morality could be represented by openness and the willingness to avoid defects during the production process. In turn, a supervisor may represent the specified ethical principles by observing the production process carefully and ensuring that the quality department identifies flaws in products and removes them from the production line swiftly.

However, if a company is not quite squeamish in its choice of strategies for placing itself at the top of the target market, the idea of using leaders’ and supervisors’ influence to change staff members’ moral standards for approaching corporate decisions may backfire spectacularly. Therefore, it is the job of supervisors, particularly, in the manufacturing industry, to identify the problematic areas in the current framework for ethical decision-making and create the strategies for staff members to accept the proposed ethical standards as the foundation for making company-related decisions in the workplace.

Thus, the company’s performance will improve along with its reputation since the issues such as the instances of defective products being released and subsequently silenced will not occur. As a result, the honest representation of accompany and its goals will affect the performance of the organization and the diligence of its employees positively. Thus, as a supervisor, spotting the cases of dishonesty and unethical choices made by staff members and addressing the situation in question adequately represents one of the most complicated tasks.

On the one hand, it is paramount to convey the importance of ethical behavior in the workplace. However, on the other hand, when a company fails to represent proper ethical values based on addressing the needs of every single party involved, from customers to staff members to business partners to the global community, employees are unlikely to make the decisions that will benefit the company.

Christian Leadership and Its Problems

At this point, it might be useful to consider the application of Christian ethics in the environment of a manufacturing organization. At first glance, the idea of encouraging employees to accept the values that are rooted in the principles of unity, empathy, and support is quite legitimate given the need to re-establish a rapport with customers on a deeply emotional level so that the brand product could be easily relatable and memorable. However, on closer inspection, Christian ethics as the leading set of principles behind the process of decision-making may turn out to be not as useful as one might think, mainly due to the differences between theological and business ethics (Allender, 1996).

Specifically, while the general set of guidelines and moral values of Christianity is important for managing relationships in the workplace, the lack of ambition in the Christian philosophy creates problems for professional development and career advancement in the workplace (Allender, 1996). Although Christians still need leaders, there is no specific incentive for Christians to become ones, which creates a problem for the competitive environment of the manufacturing industry, where professional development is essential. According to Peterson’s (n.d.) commentary, “My point is, don’t hear me saying that we don’t need leaders. Instead, I’m saying Christians ought not to aspire to be them” (p. 2).

Therefore, although the principles of unity, empathy, and honesty, which comprise Christian values, are essential in business, borrowing the entire Christian ethical model would be unreasonable for a supervisor in the manufacturing industry.

Focus on Change as a Major challenge for a Leader in the Manufacturing Industry

Although it would be wrong to claim that the significance of change is underrated in the modern business context, for some industries, it is harder to institutionalize change and promote it on all levels. The manufacturing industry is one of the unfortunate settings where change is often reduced to the introduction of innovative technology (Hale & Fields, 2007).

However, change also implies alterations in employees’ attitudes, improvements in the workflow and the management of processes, and other aspects that do not necessarily concern the manufacturing process itself directly. Therefore, the reinforcement of change should be seen as one of the foundational tasks that a leader in the manufacturing setting has to address in order to help the company evolve. According to Meyerson and Scully (1995), change as a part of the leadership philosophy plays a crucial role in the management of workplace processes.

From the perspective of a supervisor, the promotion of change needs to occur at every possible level, starting with the management of staff members’ performance. Namely, as a leader and a supervisor, one needs to be able to challenge the status quo whenever needed and introduce important modifications to the workplace and its hierarchy, as well as the communication and overall relationships between staff members. Meyerson and Scully (1995) of an outstanding job at describing the role that the proponents of radical change as the idea of a rapid, non-incremental improvement in the workplace have in the workplace environment.

Specifically, the authors point out the following consideration as a logical extension of the argument against workplace discrimination and other types of confrontations leading to the creation of outsider teams: “However, separatism and surrender are not the only options. While frustration may be inevitable, individuals can effect change, even radical change, and still enjoy fulfilling, productive, authentic careers” (Meyerson & Scully, 1995, p. 586). Thus, the authors of the article specify that the promotion of change, even when the change in question occurs in its non-incremental form and is enforced by participants rather than by leaders, should still be integrated into the organizational setting.

The described sentiment allows determining another type of challenge that a supervisor may face in the manufacturing industry. The challenge in question can be explained as the difficulty of noticing the signs that may indicate the need for change. Since the manufacturing context is not conducive to extensive and long communication between staff members and managers, the emerging need for change may not be communicated explicitly enough for supervisors to notice it and take appropriate actions. Thus, it is the responsibility and doubtless challenge of supervisors and leaders in the manufacturing environment to isolate the cases that involve changes in staff members’ behaviors and analyze them to determine whether the specified cases represent the need to transition to a different model of managing certain processes in the workplace.

In fact, the issue of communication and the ability to decipher subtle hints that team members in the manufacturing context may give is an essential quality of a supervisor in the manufacturing industry. Due to the constraints that staff members have to face in terms of their schedule and workload, as well as the nature of their work, which may not necessarily imply an uninterrupted dialogue with managers, it is crucial for a supervisor to notice issues in staff members’ behaviors and attitudes.

Thus, training communication skills, including the ability to decode nonverbal elements of the conversation, is critical for a supervisor. For this reason, the principles of servant leadership have to be adopted in the organizational context. Representing the idea of putting the needs of employees and other stakeholders at the forefront of the company’s agenda, the servant leadership style is expected to produce impressive results and encourage employees to deliver better performance, updating their skills and improving them regularly (Spears, 2005). Spears (2005), the CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership, insists that the use of servant leadership will cause a change in the power dynamics within the workplace environment.

As a result, staff members will be able to enjoy greater agency in the organizational setting, feeling valued and appreciated as unique individuals (Hale & Fields, 2007). Remarkably, the specified change will not only that staff members will no longer feel a part of the organization; quite the contrary, it will suggest that they will represent a unique case of collaboration in the workplace setting. Specifically, the idea of individual staff members engaging in teamwork as an interdisciplinary activity that will lead to highly effective performance needs to be promoted on the operational level so that the manufacturing industry could prosper.

Additionally, as a leader and a supervisor in the manufacturing industry, ne may need to consider improving the existing communication channels so that staff members could provide their feedback whenever they feel the urge to do so. The specified improvement can be made by introducing a form for suggestions and complaints, which can be anonymous. Thus, employees in the manufacturing setting will feel that their opinions are valued, while the organization will receive a chance at introducing improvements where and whenever they are needed. With the help of the specified model, a supervisor may soften the effects of a radical, non-incremental change since the need for it will have been established and will only need to be communicated to employees in a direct and understandable manner.


The task of supervising the performance of employees in the environment of the manufacturing industry is a challenging one due to the need to create a comfortable setting for staff members, at the same time controlling the key processes. However, with the focus on emergent issues and the effort to promote equity in the workplace, a supervisor will succeed in empowering employees to do their best in the workplace environment. With the help of a leadership framework based on the Servant Leadership approach and the focus on employee engagement, one will be able to increase the efficacy of staff performance in the manufacturing industry.


Allender, D. B. (1996). Leading with a limp. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press.

Eagly, A.H., & Carli, L.L. (2007). Through the labyrinth: The truth about how women become leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Hale, J. R., & Fields, D. L. (2007). Exploring servant leadership across cultures: A study of followers in Ghana and the USA. SAGE Journals, 3(4), pp. 397-418.

Lipman-Blumen, J. (2004). Toxic leaders: they’re plentiful. In Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Meyerson, D. E., & Scully, M. A. (1995). Tempered radicalism and the politics of ambivalence and change. Organization Science, 6(5), 585-600.

Ngunjiri, F. W. (2010). Women’s spiritual leadership in Africa: Tempered radicals and critical servant leaders. New York, NY: SUNY Press.

Peterson, D. (n.d.) Why Christians ought not to aspire to leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Pritchett, P. A. (2019). Underrepresentation of women as senior leaders in the automotive manufacturing industry: A phenomenological study. Phoenix, AZ: University of Phoenix.

Spears, L. C. (2005). The understanding and practice of servant leadership. Richmond, VA: School of Leadership Studies.

Wood, J. (2016). The glass ceiling is not broken: Gender equity issues among faculty in higher education. Orange, CA: Chapman University Digital Commons.

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