Dave Hataj on How Blue Collar Business Can Change Lives

Dave Hataj is the second-generation president and owner of Edgerton Gear, Inc., a Wisconsin-based custom gear manufacturer. He spoke with us about his book, Good Work: How Blue-Collar Business can Change Lives, Communities, and the World.

Good Work touches on the topic of leadership quite a bit, and it’s clear that this is something you’re very passionate about. Many of us have experienced toxic leadership and a toxic workplace, but let’s talk about good leadership. What are the most notable characteristics of a good leader?

The key part of this question is what makes a “good” leader. There are plenty of bad leaders these days. Just watch the nightly news for a minute or two for numerous examples. Good and bad leaders have a profound influence on the quality of relationships of those we lead. And these relationships are an extension of our interior life. So, if we are toxic inside, we’ll spread our toxicity to those around us. If we strive to be emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy, our influence on those we lead will be profoundly positive. The health of our workplaces, families, and organizations is 100% tied to the health of our leaders. So inner goodness is absolutely vital for a leader. Why?

As Edwin Friedman learned after decades of working with all types of organizations, such as synagogues, churches and businesses, it’s the very presence of the leader that counts, not what he or she knows. “Leaders function as the immune system of their institutions,” he writes. The ultimate difference will not be in how they exercise power, but “how well their presence is able to preserve integrity.” 

And isn’t this what we all secretly want – for a leader to preserve and reflect integrity? To be person of integrity we can trust? To keep everyone’s best interest at heart? Isn’t this what Jesus talked about on the Sermon on the Mount when He talked about goodness?

Our actions matter, as they represent the conditions of our hearts. In leadership, the actions rooted in our hearts speak louder than catchy slogans, mission statements, and fluffy motivational speeches.

In leadership, the actions rooted in our hearts speak louder than catchy slogans, mission statements, and fluffy motivational speeches.

Friedman uses the term of “well-differentiated,” which means being focused and aware of my health and goals. The more I take of myself, the healthier the organization becomes. If a leader is truly humble, honest, compassionate, with a servant heart, our organizations will reflect these attributes.

What about the people you work with? How do you incorporate love for your neighbor in the work you do every day?

Most of us are familiar with The Golden Rule of loving your neighbor as yourself. But what does this look like at work, especially when our workplaces can be demeaning, demanding, and tedious? If we stopped to think about it, the workplace is the perfect place to live this out as there are countless opportunities to love our neighbor throughout the day. By so doing, we become God’s agents of transformation in a world in desperate need of love and goodness.

In the workplace, our “neighbor” comes in the person of our customers, suppliers, and co-workers. They are all people, with their own baggage, tragedies, and histories. In our interactions with them throughout the day, we find opportunities to love them. It might be by lending a listening ear, providing the best service possible, or being honest and forgiving towards them, even when we’re under a ton of pressure. It might be making sure we don’t overcharge them, taking the time to problem solve, or going the extra mile to truly serve them.

Growing up, I watched my dad treat everyone with respect and dignity, with the exception of anyone who was belligerent or rude (loving our neighbor doesn’t mean we’re doormats). By and large, it didn’t matter what color or class the customer was; he treated them with value and respect. It could be argued that he did this because it was good business sense, but I’m convinced there was something deeper going on in my dad than just a desire to make a buck.

Your message, Dave, is essentially about how blue collar business can change lives, communities, and, ultimately, the world. What are some ways that you’ve seen blue collar business change lives?

I believe every person in the history of the world has a very deep-seated need for two things besides the basic necessities of food, shelter, and clothing. One, we all need a sense of purpose, to do something meaningful on this planet. And two, we need to be in relationship with others.

In our media-saturated society, young people especially are being fed false narratives and lies of what will make them happy and fulfilled. We often judge ourselves on how popular we are on social media, how we look, how wealthy we are, or what “influencers” we follow. But deep down, we yearn and need purpose and relationships.

Blue collar work and businesses have the unique opportunity to provide both. We can create environments where folks can learn skills and be in a community with others, working towards a common goal, a greater purpose of providing goods and services for the good of the world.

We’ve had young people that came from very toxic homes. They had no sense of worth or purpose. But in a shop environment with caring, crusty, machinist mentors, these young people found a home, a safe place that is predictable, safe, and affirming. It’s like giving the proper amount of water, fertilizer, and sunlight to a struggling plant. They blossom before our eyes.

Blue collar businesses are the lifeblood and foundation of our communities. Each of them has the potential to be more than providing goods and services. They can literally change lives by providing not just a paycheck, which is incredibly important, but also provide a nurturing environment that allows people to express their God-given talents and creativity and to flourish.

Learn more about Dave’s latest release, Good Work: How Blue Collar Business can Change Lives, Communities, and the World