Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

S2:E14 Leveling Up Your Organization’s Leadership with Rob Kalwarowsky

Ryan Chan

Rob Kalwarowsky is an Asset Management Specialist at Enbridge and the Creator of Rob’s Reliability Project!


In this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we are excited to have Rob Kalwarowsky back on the show! Rob and Ryan discuss all things leadership – qualities of a great leader, values at the core of good leadership, and much more! Listen today!

Episode Show Notes

  • How do you develop core values for your team?
  • What is the first step towards becoming a leader?
  • What makes a good or bad leader?

Podcast Platforms


00:03 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance. A podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance, I’m your host Ryan. I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week I’ll be meeting with guests who’s had an idea for how to shake things up, in the maintenance and reliability industry, sometimes the idea failed, sometimes they made their business more successful, and other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today, I’m super excited. We’ve got Rob Kalwarowsky back on the show. Rob is an Asset Management Specialist at Enbridge, and he’s breaking new ground on the grassroots maintenance management movement. There we go, I love it. [laughter] Rob you’re also the creator of Rob’s Reliability Project, a maintenance content website that produces video, audio and visual information to help spread the word of reliability. Welcome, Rob, really excited to have you back on the show.

00:48 Rob Kalwarowsky: It’s great always to talk to you, Ryan, and I’m happy to be back. Thanks for having me.

00:51 RC: So you’ve been on the show a few times, but for our new listeners, could you kick us off, share a little bit more about yourself, your background, and how you were introduced to this field of maintenance and reliability.

01:04 RK: Today, I wanna talk a little bit about leadership. So I’ll give you that story. When I started my career in reliability, basically, it was by fluke, so I took a friend of mine to a hockey game in Ottawa, and I was unemployed at the time, and one of her friends who was also at the game worked in coal mining and then five months later, I was a reliability engineer. Like a lot of us in university or college, we don’t learn reliability ’cause it’s not that super common of a program, and so we’re kind of dropped into these roles with no prior knowledge. For me, it was like a really advanced learning real quickly, like I was lucky the first week on the job, I took a course in reliability and sort of got my feet wet, but what I wanna really talk about is kind of the evolution. I spend a year working in reliability and I saved them $30 million, and I walked into the annual view and I was thinking like, “Hey, I’ve saved all this money,” I posted the biggest ROI, the biggest savings, the biggest value of any engineer in the company, like we’re fast track, we’re moving.

02:08 RK: Actually, the reverse happened, the bigger the number I posted, the more pushback I got and I got these same questions that I hear from all around the world: “How did you say this is much money? How were we doing these things so wrong before? How did you see this value that we didn’t see.” And what I’ve put the pieces towards lately. First off, I thought it was my fault. I thought like, “Hey, what am I doing wrong? The data speaking says, this is the right answer. How come nobody else sees it? Am I wrong? Is the data wrong? Like What’s wrong? But basically, what I kind of learned recently, especially in the leadership work that I’ve done, it’s a pervasive leadership problem across industry and what I see out there in the world, and I get these questions and I’ve experienced it, and we have great people out there in the field, they have great technical knowledge, and yet we don’t see the results that we deserve, and it’s a leadership issue.

03:08 RC: You’ve gone through some good times, you’ve also gone through some challenging times as it relates to working with your manager, your boss, to really showcase the work that you’ve done and why it’s important. So I guess I’m curious, Rob, from the companies that you’ve worked with, I’m sure you’ve seen what great leadership looks like, you’ve also seen what not the greatest leadership looks like and I’m curious from your thoughts, what makes a great leader a great leader, and what makes a poor manager or a poor leader a poor one.

03:37 RK: Well, you’re a great leader, Ryan. [laughter]

03:40 RC: Gosh. [laughter]

03:44 RK: No, I’m actually serious. So you look at the values that you have at UpKeep and you’re about progression versus perfection, you’re about grit and not prestige, and it’s about helping the customer first, those are things that people can get behind in their work, and not only are you putting that forward as you a leader, but also you can see the impact that’s having where UpKeep’s doing a lot of stuff for your customers with respect to COVID, with respect to helping out in the community. And that’s kind of the impact that you’re having as that high impact leader, and you’ve seen me step up as this leader in our space and step up as this guy who talks about mental health, this guy who talks about people and connection, love, vulnerability, courage, leadership. And for me, the first hurdle I had to conquer was even seeing myself as a leader, and I think everybody listening to this call, regardless if you have direct reports or not, you are a leader, because there are people in your life that you can influence to become the best people that they can be, and that’s what leadership is.

04:57 RC: I absolutely love that Rob and I 100% believe that too. Being a leader is about your ability to influence and impact people in a positive meaning in a positive manner. Yeah, I think you’ve done that so greatly for the maintenance and reliability community, I’m sure you’ve done it for so many people within your life as well. I guess on the same light of that, you mentioned everyone is a leader. Everyone has the ability to be a leader. How do I take that first step in the professional setting, within my career, within my company, what should I do first, and what does it mean to you to be a great leader in a manufacturing plant or within your facility or your company?

05:47 RK: Yeah, first step, for me, to be honest, I think it’s personal leadership. My definition, I’ll go with the Brené Brown definition of leadership, and that’s helping, coaching, influencing people around you to reach their highest potential. That includes yourself. And what I see so frequently, and I was one of them, like when I walked out of saving $30 million and I got all this pushback, I checked out of that job, and I think what we can see now, especially in this time with COVID is, your attitude about how you show up every day, it’s a big deal, and not only does it affect you personally, it affects everybody around you, that attitude that affects everybody around you, it comes home with you. So it’s not only like, “Oh, it’s just affecting my supervisor or my direct report. It’s affecting my wife, my kids.” And to me, that’s the first step is really taking ownership, saying, “I’m a leader, I’m gonna own how I show up, I’m gonna bring that attitude.” Like you do. Like everybody at UpKeep does is bring that positive attitude and really watch that ripple effect come out around you.

06:56 RC: One comment saying, here at Upkeep again, it’s not about what you’ve done in the past is what we think, what you believe you’re gonna do in the future, and to me and to us, that’s a whole grit over prestige, it’s not about the prestige of all of the things that you’ve done in the past, it’s about what you wanna do, that grit, that hustle that you want to achieve out in the future, and having that, I think, enables people to believe in themselves to say, “Hey, whatever I did in the past, whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, I have the power and influence to affect my future.”

07:33 RK: These people, they have bad management teams, they don’t get money for projects, they don’t get support for projects. And so they check out. And that’s 70% disengagement that you see that gallop reports every year. The reason people check out is they see that their job has no meaning, their job doesn’t impact anything, their job basically, if they walked out the door, nothing would change. First off, that’s a fallacy, if you show up with the right attitude, you can impact change, and for a lot of your customers, a lot of your listeners, it can be something as simple as walking around the shop floor, your manufacturing facility, and talking to an operator and just being a good friend to them. You don’t even have to change how they work, but just really leaning into this personal connection and really making sure that they understand that you value them, and I think stuff like that just goes a long way.

08:30 RC: Absolutely. And that pushes everyone. So I think what you’re pointing out is, have a sense of purpose, and when you have that sense of purpose, you do your best life’s work, and what I also remember… What this also reminds me of is, I forgot who I was talking to, but they said the best way to start your job as a reliability engineer is go make friends with all the operators because they’re gonna spill all the beans. The good, the bad, the ugly, the great. And that’s one of the best places to learn as well.

09:03 RK: It absolutely is. And that’s honestly, as a consultant, that’s one thing I’ve noticed across industry that’s been real bad, and it speaks to poor psychological safety as a culture in environment, they had to hire this third person consultant to come in to talk to the operators, to talk to the mechanics, who knew everything that was going wrong and who knew how to fix all of it, and yet you need this third person to come in to tell management. It just speaks to lack of trust, it speaks to lack of psychological safety, it speaks to all these things that a high-performance culture has that just aren’t out there.

09:44 RC: This fascinating phenomenon that you really need… That so many companies need to hire this third-party consultants and do the work of what probably should have been done internally anyways, but you have to have that because I think what you’re getting at is that the company core values aren’t there that enables the operators to speak up in the… Existing reliability engineers to go and speak to, feel safe speaking to the people on the shop floor. So that kinda gets me into this next point around developing great core values for the company for the teams. I’m curious, Rob, do you have any suggestions on how to best develop company values for teams, and I’m also curious how these values have impacted work culture and how you’ve seen that play out in the past.

10:34 RK: Your values has to be either personal or as a small team. If you have a value as this 10,000 person organization, it’s probably not gonna work, and we’ve all seen ineffective values like, “Hey, we want no failures across the whole company.” Or, “We want no LTIs.” It’s bad. Let’s be honest, it’s just bad. If you and your small team can have them, definitely do it, it’s gotta be personal, and it’s gotta mean something, and when I say mean something, I mean, mean something from an emotional level. And this is something I think a lot of us as engineers have a hard time understanding, and we always think like, “Hey, if we just could shut the doors out and close off to all emotions, we’d feel better.” And I had this a lot, I was depressed for a long time, and I thought like, “Hey, if I could just shut off everything, then I wouldn’t be depressed and I could work harder, I’d be a robot, it would be better.” But I think emotions are the only way to get you to that next level of performance, and so if you’re running off as this robot, you’re never actually gonna achieve those high levels of performance that like the best in the world are.

11:47 RK: Like You’re LeBron James, like I’m watching The Last Dance. Like you’re Michael Jordans of the world. And that’s really where you gotta get to is like these visions have to give you something inside you that makes you wanna take that next step to go that extra mile for your customer, for yourself, for the people around you, and really drive that result through.

12:12 RC: Creating company or creating team values, it has to be authentic. It has to mean something to you and it has to mean something to every single individual on the team, and I think the other thing that I hear you say is that, it’s not about just a single person, it’s not about my values, when we talk about team values, it’s also gotta be relatable to everyone else on the team, because a team runs twice as fast when you have everyone rowing in the same direction versus just a single person trying to go out 110% speed.

12:48 RK: That’s what leadership is. Like if we’re all in a boat and I can be the best rower, and if nobody else is rowing, like I’m an ineffective leader and the boat is not going fast, but if I’m an effective leader and everybody else in the boat is rowing to their maximum potential, I can actually do nothing and not that I would but, ’cause that’s also bad leadership, but the boat itself goes a lot faster and everyone’s life is easier.

13:14 RC: Let’s say that we’ve created these values that are meaningful, that are authentic to myself, to the team. What are the best ways to communicate that and reinforce these values in a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis?

13:30 RK: You have to lead them as a leader, you have to be the guy who walks the walk. What kills psychological safety, what kills results so quickly is a breach of trust. And we see that all the time. I’ve worked at organizations that have said, “We wanna be the best, we wanna have the best maintenance and reliability program in the world.” And yet they’re slashing people, they’re slashing budgets. They’re not letting you PM the equipment, they’re not letting you have time to do an RCM, and immediately you go like, “Okay, well, they don’t actually wanna be the best at anything.” And so for me, it’s just like living in alignment with your values, and you can do that from a personal standpoint, all the way to a corporate level, it doesn’t really matter, but that’s one of the aspects of personal leadership that we all have to do.

14:21 RC: Where could our listeners go, if they wanna learn more, read more about leadership and how to become a better leader within their team, personally or professionally?

14:34 RK: Yeah, actually, I’m putting on a leadership program, it’s 12 weeks, it’s called The Leadership Launchpad Project, and I’ve partnered with my leadership coach Susan Hobson to bring that to the industry. And if you wanna learn more about that, you can go to But basically, what I wanna say, and less about a pitch, and it’s more about why I’m here and why I think a lot of us in industry struggle, and what it is is I just… And I’m sure you are too, Ryan. It’s like I’m so tired of going to facilities across North America, and I’m so tired of hearing everybody around the world who says the same stuff to me, I’m disengaged, I can’t get buy-in, I can’t get… I see all this value in my plant and I see all this waste, and yet I cannot get anybody to buy-in, I cannot get anyone to go out and get rid of that waste and capture that value, and to me, what’s holding us back is leadership and we don’t have the leadership strategies, we don’t have the mindset strategies to do that, and this course, The Leadership Launchpad Project, it’s designed to get you those strategies, so you can capture that waste, you can capture that value, you can change your business and you can change your life and that’s it, that’s all.

16:00 RC: That’s awesome, Rob. I’m really looking forward to that program. I’m personally looking forward to also going to that event and learning more about how I can be a better leader too, to our team. So thank you so much, Rob, for joining us. Thank you to all our listeners for tuning in to today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me, I’m very active on LinkedIn, you could shoot me an email at [email protected] You can also find me at the Maintenance Community on LinkedIn, the largest community of maintenance professionals in the world where we host weekly conversations contest, all centered around maintenance and reliability. Hope to connect with everyone soon. Until next time. Thanks again, Rob.

16:39 RK: Thanks, Ryan.


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