There is no universal definition of leadership and indeed many books have been devoted to the topic of leadership. James MacGregor Burns describes a leader as one who instills purpose, not one who controls by brute force. A leader strengthens and inspires the followers to accomplish shared goals. Leaders shape the organization’s values, promote the organization’s values, protect the organization’s values and exemplify the organization’s values. Ultimately, Burns says, “Leaders and followers can raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality… leadership becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both the leader and the led, and thus has a transforming effect on both.” Similarly, Daimler Chrysler’s CEO Bob Eaton defines a leader as “… someone who can take a group of people to a place they don’t think they can go.” “Leadership is we, not me; mission, not my show; vision, not division; and community, not domicile.” As the above illustrates, leadership is difficult to define in anything other than lofty words.
The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award has a more grounded definition of leadership in its core values. As stated in its core values and concepts, visionary leadership is:
“An organization’s senior leaders should set directions and create a customer focus, clear and visible values, and high expectations. The directions, values and expectations should balance the needs of all your stakeholders. Your leaders should ensure the creation of strategies, systems, and methods for achieving excellence, stimulating innovation, and building knowledge and capabilities. The values and strategies should help guide all activities and decisions of your organization. Senior leaders should inspire and motivate your entire workforce and should encourage all employees to contribute, to develop and learn, to be innovative, and to be creative.
Senior leaders should serve as role models through their ethical behavior and their personal involvement in planning, communications, coaching, development of future leaders, review of organizational performance, and employee recognition. As role models, they can reinforce values and expectations while building leadership, commitment, and initiative throughout your organization.”
Leadership can be difficult to define, However, successful quality leaders tend to have certain characteristics.
Characteristics of Quality Leaders
There are 12 behaviors or characteristics that successful quality leaders demonstrate.
- They give priority attention to external and internal Customers and their needs. Leaders place themselves in the customers’ shoes and service their needs from that perspective. They continually evaluate the customers’ changing requirements.
- They empower, rather than control, subordinates. Leaders have trust and confidence in the performance of their subordinates. They provide the resources, training, and work environment to help subordinates do their jobs. However, the decision to accept responsibility lies with the individual.
- They emphasize improvement rather than maintenance. Leaders use the phrase “if it isn’t perfect, improve it” rather than “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There is always room for improvement, even if the improvement is small. Major breakthroughs sometimes happen, but it’s the little ones that keep the continuous process improvement on a positive track.
- They emphasize prevention. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly true. It is also true that perfection can the enemy of creativity. We can’t always wait until we have created the perfect process or product. There must be a balance between preventing problems and developing better, but not perfect, processes.
- They encourage collaboration rather than competition. When functional areas, departments, or work groups are in competition, they may find subtle ways of working against each other or withholding information. Instead, there must be collaboration among and within units.
- They train and coach, rather than direct and supervise. Leaders know that the development of the human resource is a necessity. As coaches, they help their subordinates learn to do a better job.
- They learn from problems. When a problem exists, it is treated as an opportunity rather than something to be minimized or covered up. “What caused it?” and “How can we prevent it in the future?” are the questions quality leaders ask.
- They continually try to improve communications. Leaders continually disseminate information about the TQM effort. They make it evident that TQM is not just a slogan. Communication is two way–ideas will be generated by people when leaders encourage them and act upon them. For example, on the eve of Desert Storm, General Colin Powell solicited enlisted men and women for advice on winning the war. Communication is the glue that holds a TQM organization together.
- They continually demonstrate their commitment to quality. Leaders walk their talk– their actions, rather than their words, communicate their level of commitment. They let the quality statements be their decision-making guide.
- They choose suppliers on the basis of quality, not price. Suppliers are encouraged to participate on project teams and become involved. Leaders know that quality begins with quality materials and the true measure is the life-cycle cost.
- They establish organizational systems to support the quality effort. At the senior management level a quality council is provided, and at the first line supervisor level, work groups and project teams are organized to improve the process.
- They encourage and recognize team effort. They encourage, provide recognition and reward individuals and teams. Leaders know that people like to know that their contributions are appreciated and important. This action is one of the leader’s most powerful tools.
In order to become successful, leadership requires an intuitive understanding of human nature– the basic needs, wants, and abilities of people. To be effective, a leader understands that:
- People, paradoxically, need security and independence at the same time.
- People are sensitive to external rewards and punishments and yet are also strongly self-motivated.
- People like to hear a kind word of praise. Catch people doing something right, so you can pat them on the back.
- People can process only a few facts at a time; thus, a leader needs to keep things simple.
- People trust their gut reaction more than statistical data.
- People distrust a leader’s rhetoric if the words are inconsistent with the leader’s actions.
Leaders need to give their employees independence and yet provide a secure working environment–one that encourages and rewards successes. A working environment must be provided that fosters employee creativity and risk taking by not penalizing mistakes.
A leader will focus on a few key values and objectives. Focusing on a few values or objectives gives the employees the ability to discern on a daily basis what is important and what is not. Employees, upon understanding the objectives, must be given personal control over the task in order to make the task their own and, thereby, something to which they can commit. A leader, by giving the employee a measure of control over an important task, will tap into the employee’s inner drive. Employees, led by the manager can become excited participants in the organization.
Having a worthwhile cause such as total quality management is not always enough to get employees to participate. People, (and, in turn, employees) follow a leader, not a cause. Indeed, when people like the leader but not the vision, they will try to change the vision or reconcile their vision to the leader’s vision. If the leader is liked, people will not look for another leader. This is especially evident in politics. If the leader is trusted and liked, then the employees will participate in the total quality management cause. Therefore, it is particularly important that a leader’s character anti competence, which is developed by good habits and ethics, be above reproach. Effective leadership begins on the inside and moves out.