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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Quality and Leadership: one step too far



Bill Troy has written an excellent entry on the links between Quality and Leadership, which many (I for one) see clearly.  In my Certificate course I get to meet many who have decided to transition their career to one engaged in Quality Management, because they see that as a good entry to a leadership role within their profession. 

I just think that Bill has moved the dial a little bit more than is comfortable for some in the ASQ family.  

But before I get to that, let me say that Leadership may be aspirational, and may be transformative or transactional or indeed all three.  If only we could figure out what the heck it is.  There are so many active definitions at play from “A leader is someone who has followers”, to “leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality,” to leaders will be those who empower others” or “leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less” and even “leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal”.  

After years of reading and thinking I personally have decided that the Potter Stewart approach is probably the most practical.    

In 1964 while sitting on the bench of the US Supreme Court, Potter Stewart was commenting on a case about a certain movie and whether or not was appropriate for viewing.  The issue was should it be protected as free-speech and should it be excluded as hard-core pornography. Stewart said (paraphrased)…  “I shall not today attempt to define [pornography], and perhaps I never intelligibly can, but I know it when I see it.”   

That’s how I feel about Leadership.

Note:  For those whose jaws have just dropped thinking that I have maligned leaders and their leadership talents, I am not linking leadership with pornography, beyond to notion that the two concepts are both easy to recognize, but near impossible to define.

But to get back to Bill’s comment, he wrote: “we want, need, and expect every one of our members—and indeed, every person in the quality community—to grow and develop as leaders.  

And in that I have a problem.  

The other day I was in a conversation at a healthcare academia curriculum workshop about leadership.  One notion put forward is that as part of the professional curriculum we should always be including instruction on leadership because we all have a natural drive that aspires us to leadership, and a duty to lead, but we don’t know how.  It sounded so powerful and so fulfilling; how could you argue against.  

But I did.  I think it is nonsense.

 In my experience in laboratory management, I see two groups of workers, both excellent at what they do.  When given the opportunity to take on a special project, some jump at it. They love the opportunity, they love the recognition, and they love the opportunity to get ahead.  Given the distribution of age, and gender, and ethnicity it would be nice to say you can pinpoint this group because they are all young, or all women, but it doesn’t work out that way.  

But there are others who are quite happy to do their work diligently and accurately and (near) error free, and leave room for others.  It is not a matter of shyness or self-deprecation.  It is that they are very satisfied with what they are doing and are quite happy to continue grow within that framework, but they are not driven to new frontiers. They are happy to work hard and hone their talents and skills, but at the end of the day they prefer to go home to their family and friends.  Their lives are both fulfilling and complete and they do not feel the need to be team leaders.    

Both groups are equally excellent workers and both are essential as part of the staff.  One group clamours for new adventure, the other not.  Denying the one group leaves them frustrated.  Pushing the others can jeopardize their excellent work habits by adding in unwarranted distraction. 

The challenge to leadership is to figure out which group is which and how to make all of them happy to be on board and working with you.

So to Bill I say, “want and need…”, absolutely.  “Expect…” let’s not go there.

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