Six Sigma


Pat Townsend & Joan Gebhardt

Leadership.com, part two

As predicted more than a decade ago in John Naisbitt's best-selling book Megatrends (Warner Books, 1982), the high-tech world requires an increased level of "high touch"--and that includes leadership. In last month's column, we introduced the concept of leadership in a dotcom world and began a discussion of the current work environment's effect on "classic" leadership principles.

 The complexity of the challenges and tasks; the stress introduced by the speed of transactions, interactions and reactions; and the intelligence of subordinates combine to make things tougher than ever for would-be leaders. In addition, the subordinates--particularly those who are computer-savvy--have options; they can go elsewhere. To a greater degree than ever before, they get to pick those for whom they will work. As the title of a marvelous book on leadership by Paul Malone III warns, abuse 'em and lose 'em (Synergy Press, 1990).

 Last month, we focused on the principles of leadership, or "what you do." This month we'll explore leadership traits, or "who you are." This month's list comes from the U.S. Army. A quick glance at the following paragraphs should serve to allay any fears that might arise concerning learning military techniques. The list applies to humans--and not just those in camouflage gear.

 First, here are a few notes on how to use these lists: They can be used for self-assessment, as a framework for counseling others or as a means for critiquing someone's leadership style in search of lessons to emulate or avoid. In the case of self-assessment, it's often a good idea to have the help of a plain-talking friend the first time or two.

 Reacting to what you've learned in studying the leadership traits is more of a challenge than is dealing with the principles of leadership for the obvious reason that it's more difficult to change who you are than it is to change what you do--although modifying what you do is often an important preliminary step toward changing who you are.

 Personal change by proclamation works no better than organizational change by proclamation; loudly saying, "I will be more decisive from now on" is of no more use than announcing, "We are a quality company" if there's no action to back up the words. Once the decision is made to work on improving a particular trait, a specific plan--with observable, measurable accomplishments and set due dates as milestones--must be defined. Action can, and often does, precede emotional commitment.

 The following is the list of leadership traits, with some ideas on how working in a dotcom world might affect their relative applicability and importance. Remember, no one excels at every one of these; everyone is a combination of strengths and weaknesses. The trick is to be self-aware and to consciously work on your weaknesses.

1. Integrity

 Honesty and consistency have always been extraordinarily important, but with growing physical distances between leaders and those they lead, integrity has become even more important.

2. Knowledge

 Leaders must be comfortable with the fact that virtually all subordinates will know things that they, the leaders, don't know. That has always been true; it's just more obvious now. On the other hand, it's as important as always that the leader possess the technical knowledge needed at his or her level.

3. Courage

 It's a frightening world out there for many employees. Having leaders who lack the courage of their convictions (including having the courage to accept blame when appropriate) will be the catalyst for departure.

4. Decisiveness

 With everything moving so quickly, the need to be decisive grows daily. Decisiveness is defined by a U.S. Marine Corps manual as including "a positive approach, little waste of time, objectivity, time analysis and sound evaluation of suggestions from others." The keys to becoming a decisive leader are practice and experience--not impulsiveness.

5. Dependability

 The leader should be the rock in a changing world. A promise made is a promise that must be kept.

6. Initiative

 Action in the absence of orders requires alertness and a willingness to look for tasks to be done and to do them without prompting or orders. Again, this has always had some importance, but as the speed of change has increased, so has the need for people who are willing to exercise initiative and to lead others where the need is despite a lack of detailed instruction.

7. Tact

 General George C. Marshall (of Marshall Plan fame) once said, "A decent regard for the rights and feelings of others is essential to leadership." What used to be appreciated in the area of sensitivity is now demanded.

8. Justice

 Fairness and impartiality are the hallmarks of justice. A work force that is becoming more diverse by the day will punish anyone in a management position who harbors prejudice of any sort.

9. Enthusiasm

 One definition of enthusiasm from the military is the "display of sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of duty." While that may be a little stilted, the central thought is solid: Why would anyone want to follow a supposed leader who doesn't seem to care about where he or she is going?

10. Bearing

 This is far more than just the physical act of looking good. Being physically impressive simply doesn't carry the same importance it once did. Incidentally, military guidelines for "bearing" include such mandates as "Demonstrate calmness, sincerity and understanding" and "Master your emotions so that you control them and they do not control you."

11. Endurance

 Again, physical prowess is not the whole picture. Endurance has to do with mental stamina as well. With pressurized deadlines a common occurrence, subordinates will want to know that their leader will be there and will be coherent--from beginning to end.

12. Unselfishness

 With both physical (e.g., office space, furniture, etc.) and psychological (praise and appreciation) considerations, leaders who take care of their followers will, in turn, be taken care of by those followers.

13. Loyalty

 Loyalty and longevity are not inextricably linked, and disagreement is not disloyalty. The employee who stays with one company for 20-plus years is increasingly becoming a rarity. In a leadership.com world, loyalty must be quickly won and appreciated for as long as the leader and follower are linked. The old adage that "Loyalty is a two-way street" continues to apply; what has changed is the breaking-in time as two people feel each other out and decide whether to be loyal. The leader.com must accelerate that process by being generous with his or her willingness to extend loyalty--by defending subordinates from unwarranted pressure, by respecting confidences and by giving subordinates power. Keep in mind that the majority of the men and women who join the military stay for less than four years; the military has been living with this challenge of intense but short-term loyalty for hundreds of years.

14. Judgment

 In a dotcom world, with technical knowledge often held by subordinates, a leader must make every effort to inform his or her own judgment. By delegating responsibilities and encouraging participation, leaders can facilitate the upward flow of crucial information. Judgment includes "the ability to weigh facts and circumstances logically in order to make decisions." A person can improve his or her judgment by making estimates of situations and by anticipating situations that will require decisions.


 The particular leadership principles and traits that are most valued and most effective do change over time. The basics, however, don't change.

 You must make conscious decisions about your own leadership style, about your particular blend of the rational and emotional components of leadership and about your own continual growth. Becoming a leader is possible, but it doesn't happen accidentally.

About the authors

 Pat Townsend and Joan Gebhardt have written more than 200 articles and six books, including Commit to Quality (John Wiley & Sons, 1986); Quality in Action: 93 Lessons in Leadership, Participation, and Measurement (John Wiley & Sons, 1992); Five-Star Leadership: The Art and Strategy of Creating Leaders at Every Level (John Wiley & Sons, 1997); Recognition, Gratitude & Celebration (Crisp Publications, 1997); How Organizations Learn: Investigate, Identify, Institutionalize (Crisp Publications, 1999); and Quality Is Everybody's Business (CRC Press, 1999). Pat Townsend has recently re-entered the corporate world and is now dealing with leadership.com issues as a practitioner as well as an observer and writer/speaker. He is now chief quality officer for UICI, a diverse financial services corporation headquartered in the Dallas area. E-mail the authors at ptownsend@qualitydigest.com .

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