Any attempt to outline an ideal is apt to be met with many differences of opinion, if not actual denials. One reason for this difference of opinion is found in the fact that ideals are always on a sliding scale The ideal of to-day becomes the realization of to-morrow, and the point of view depends upon how far up the ladder of idealism the observer has advanced. To borrow an illustration from the shop, probably every workman remembers that on entering the factory as an apprentice, his boyish ambitions were centered on advancing to a position occupied by some workman well up the line, who, in the opinion of the apprentice, was better dressed and had an easier task than his fellows. In the course of time, if the young man was ambitious and persevering, he probably occupied this or a similar position, and then found, to his dismay, that his ideal had changed, and that he now looked forward to occupying the position held by the foreman or superintendent. In other words, viewed from the point of attainment, an ideal is a will-o'-the-wisp, always keeping just beyond our reach. It is well that this is so, for there is no human failure so complete as the man who is entirely satisfied with himself.
From another point of view the ideal is a movable feast, because, to quote an example from our subject, the ideal foreman of the apprentice is not that of the skilled mechanic, while the views of the owner on this subject are almost sure to be at variance with those of any of the workmen. We can readily appreciate how the bright boy idealizes the man who treats him kindly and who gives him an opportunity to learn. The lazy boy feels kindly disposed toward the foreman who gives him an easy task. The poor and careless workman wants a foreman who will pass work which is not a credit to the craft, and who is blind to the evils of laziness and, possibly, to those of the drink habit. The skilled workman asks nothing of a foreman but to be treated like a man, to be given a proper share of the desirable work, and to be allowed to work out his own salvation along these lines. The owner looks to his foreman to make money for him. In many cases, he expects him to make more money than the capital invested and the methods pursued will warrant. This means that the foreman is expected to crowd the workmen to the limit, and to keep both the plant and the help as near the breaking point as it is possible to carry them. Some owners and managers, however, are content with a reasonable return on their property, pursue up-to-date methods, and give to the workmen some thought beyond their mere capacity to earn dividends. It is to be regretted that men of this type are not more often found in positions where their humane policy can be held up as an example to those of a more sordid and grasping nature.
It having been shown impossible to outline an ideal foreman, when viewed from these different standpoints, evidently the discussion of what a foreman should be can be no more than a statement of the personal opinion of the writer.
Before all other qualifications, it is necessary that the foreman should be what the word implies - first, a man; and, second, a leader. If he is a man in the true sense of the word, he cannot fail to be respected by all self-respecting workmen. If he is an honest leader, he will conduct those workmen along the lines laid down by the owners as the policy of the establishment. Too often the foreman is looked upon merely as the buffer between the firm and the men. He is supposed to act as peacemaker, and to keep them from flying at one another's throats. Under such conditions, it is obviously impossible that a man can be in full favor with either party. Toward the firm the foreman should be respectful, obedient, and energetic; toward the workmen he should be firm, just, and sympathetic.
Of all the qualities going to make the ideal foreman, that of tact is the most important. It means that the men will be treated as individuals, their failings noted and corrected, their good points enlarged upon and due credit allowed for them, and that the shop life will be freer and more natural. With this tact, or faculty of governing along the line of least resistance, must be coupled absolute fairness. Nothing will create such an atmosphere of discontent as a suspicion that the foreman has favorites. If these supposed favorites happen to be relatives of the foreman, the idea is much harder to combat. For that reason, personal friendship and family obligations will be left outside the sbop by the man who wishes to succeed as a leader of workmen. A decided, but not aggressive, manner of passing upon questions serves to inspire the men with respect for the foreman, especially if such decisions are rendered promptly, and they prove in the large majority of cases, to be accurate. Having made a decision, or taken a decided stand on any matter, it will not do to deviate from that position, unless it is so clearly wrong as to be apparent to the casual observer.
UNIVERSAL VISE ARRANGED FOR SURFACE GRINDING.
SHARPENING TEETH OF LARGE FACE CUTTER. Norton Emery Wheel Co.
Fairness, dignity, and firmness are qualities that can be quite closely defined; but tact and its fellow attribute, executive ability, are rather elusive of close description. They are of the inherited type and can be cultivated only to a very limited extent. If a man does not possess tact and executive ability, it is useless for him to accept a position where they are essential, in the belief that they will develop as required.
While workmen are supposed to be paid only for the time spent in the shop, it is also true that a man's value cannot be reckoned entirely by the quality of his work and the number of hours of labor. His conduct outside the factory invariably leaves its impress on his conduct within and on the product of his work. This is even more noticeable in the case of a foreman, for, although workmen generally would deny it, they do not and cannot have a wholesome respect for a foreman who is not respected by the community. Men will say they do not care what a foreman is outside the shop; but their better nature will not allow them to look up in any sense to a social pariah.
While an absolute grasp of all the details of the business, viewed from the workman's standpoint, is not absolutely necessary to a foreman possessing tact and executive ability, it adds greatly to a foreman's prestige to be able literally to show any workman just how any operation should be performed.
Jnst a word in illustration of tact in dealing with men of radically different temperaments. The blustering workman, so familiar to all foremen, can be best controlled by a very quiet and soft-spoken superior, especially if the foreman in question has the reputation of firmness and fair dealing. The quiet, positive statement, coupled with a refusal to discuss the matter, is so contrary to the blatant workman's usual procedure, that it takes away his only weapon by not allowing him to use it. On the other hand, it often happens that the quiet man of few words can be spurred on to better deeds by an energetic and insistent manner on the part of the foreman. Of course, this all goes to prove the foreman's tact, and to disprove the oft-repeated statement that workmen should all be treated alike. The best results cannot be obtained in this manner. Until men are all turned out in the same mould, it will be necessary to suit the treatment to the tem-perament of the man.
The question of how far it is advisable to show sympathetic nature, is one of grave doubt. Sympathy does not mean that excuses are to be taken literally; but a casual inquiry as to how the sick wife or baby is getting along shows an interest outside the commercial relation that appeals to most men. The old saw, "You catch more flies with molasses than you do with vinegar", has an application in the treatment of workmen by their foreman.
Another question which has more than one answer, is whether it is better to have a foreman promoted from the ranks or to get an outside man for the position. The man from the bench is familiar with all the shop traditions and practices, and can keep things going with hardly a break. On the other hand, he is the victim of jealousy and spite, and, unless exceptionally well-poised, is apt to assume an attitude toward his former shopmates which might be termed "dignity gone to seed". Every youthful indiscretion is remembered, and any attempt to check such antics on the part of the younger men is held to be an unwarranted assumption of dignity. On the whole, the attempt to promote a foreman from the floor or bench is fraught with difficulties; and many a man who would have made an excellent foreman in another shop, has been a rank failure in that capacity when tried among his old shop associates. The foreman taken from the outside stands or falls, as far as the workmen are concerned, on his record in his new position. He is not condemned for past faults. Furthermore, he should be able to bring into his new associations some of his experience in former situations which will be of value to his new employers. It is an infusion of new blood and is often the means of discovering leaks and weaknesses not noticeable to the old employees.
A foreman's value to a firm depends largely on his knowledge of the capacity and limitations of each man under him. This knowledge enables him to lay out his work to the best advantage, as he knows the man who is quick, the man who is accurate, and the man who can be trusted to carry along detail or experimental work. To keep a man up to his best pace, to have new work laid out for him in advance, and to keep that man satisfied with his work and wages, is a task that taxes the ingenuity of the best of foremen. The matter of repairs, especially those of a petty nature, is one which tests a foreman's commercial sense more than the regular run of work docs. As an example, suppose that the friction on a countershaft slips; shall the oiler be sent for while the machine operator waits; shall the workman fix it himself; or shall the man be transferred to 'mother machine while the repair work is going on? Of course, this all depends on the nature and degree of the difficulty; but it affords an opportunity for quick and accurate judgment on the part of the foreman, and demonstrates his fitness to cope with emergencies.
An article of this character should not be closed without a reference to that old-time figure, the " working foreman". Do not all machinists of mature age remember how the foreman would walk down the shop with a piece of work and a file in his hand, filing as he went? Even in these days of strenuous competition, we sometimes see an advertisement for a "working foreman". It is preposterous to think that a foreman can properly supervise the operations of more than a dozen men, and do any work that calls for close attention. Many firms insist on this practice, however, and are daily losing money by its continuance. A foreman should be devoting his energies to the development of better methods of manufacture, and not to the production of work that could be performed by one of the machinists.
And so we leave the ideal foreman, not yet discovered, not even closely defined, but anxiously awaited and badly needed.