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Miriam Boudreaux

Quality Insider

Antithesis of a Politician: The Good Quality Professional

The differences are extreme, but we have tools to define them

Published: Monday, November 5, 2012 - 15:43

Have you ever wondered how most politicians are made? Where do they come from? It’s as if they live in a different dimension than the rest of us. They are definitely different from average quality folk. In fact, good quality professionals are the antithesis of most politicians. Explore with me, if you will, the differences between these two species of individuals that exist, unfortunately, with disproportionate power in this world.

A politician’s best traits

My first close encounter with a politician was at my college graduation, where President George Bush Sr. gave the commencement speech. I was so moved by him and his speech that it colored my view of politics for a long time. When he shook my hand, I was so proud. Of course, no picture exists of that moment except the one in my mind. But it will always be there. A president shaking my hand!

It would be years before I would be able to understand U.S. politics, its pundits, and what you hear in the news about politics. Now that I do understand, my outlook has changed so much. No more visions of sugar plums. My picture-perfect moment is not so perfect anymore. I have come to the conclusion that politicians have traits considered undesirable by some of us.

Take, for example, our larger-than-life impression of political figures. How do they manage to stay in the limelight for so long? From any media or marketing perspective, it’s impressive. I have been writing articles in my quality-related blog for awhile now, and I have not managed to attract as much attention as the average politician.

I’m good, I work hard, I follow the rules, I’m cautious. Great, but that doesn’t buy me press time, PR time, publicity, free travel, great benefits, or even a membership to a gym. So I accept that I, like other good quality professionals, lack the traits that politicians possess. And although I’m not sure anybody wants to have them, here is my shortlist of the best traits I believe a politician must have:
• Talks the talk
• “Born” successful
• Has guts and audacity
• Endures personal hardship
• Has correction plans

What follows is a comparison of these best traits with those of a good quality professional. I give examples of how each species demonstrates these traits, and what makes the politician and quality professional so different.

Politicians talk the talk

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that talking the talk is a politician’s best trait. They may not know how to walk the talk, but without a doubt they can talk it. A good politician can make bad news look good and good news look bad, depending on what side of the field they’re on. Even when he’s in the midst of trouble, a good politician can talk his way around it and somehow make it look as if we have contributed to the problem. A politician can make us feel vulnerable and so much in need of him. Ah, those words, those gestures, those phrases. Politicians know what to say and when to say it, and they also know how to take back what they said and when to add flair to their speeches. If only I could speak that well.

Don’t forget, too, that a politician’s talk is based on information somebody else provides. So regardless if she knows the facts or evidence about a situation, she can talk and argue about it. Just think how politicians are able to convince us that something is true. Remember George W. Bush and the weapons of mass destruction? Even after a politician is caught presenting only his version of the truth, he still manages to enlighten us with all-new, masterful statements. Remember President Obama’s “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as expected?” Wow. Now that’s a powerful statement, isn't it?

Politicians’ talk is powerful, and they are comfortable wielding that power. What about the right-wing asserting that, “Osama Bin Laden was caught because of enhanced interrogation techniques?” Talk about putting a third dimension to a two-dimensional drawing.

For now, let’s just say politicians are talk masters. Really good at talking, regardless of whether they practice or follow their own talk, and whether it has any basis in fact.

The quality professional’s talk
In contrast to this, the good quality professional knows better: “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” Good quality people base their statements on facts or results that they typically gather on their own, using proven tools. They couldn’t make a negative report look good even if they tried. In fact, the good quality professional has been put in the position of doing the dirty work that nobody else wants to do, which is to show the way to improvement even if it means exposing all the cracks and faults of her organization.

Most quality professionals cannot finesse their own results. Whether the results are good or bad, they just have to tell it like it is. This inability to talk their way around bad news has actually spurred on the development of root cause analysis techniques to improve situations, rather than trying to make bad things look good. And good quality professionals actually walk the talk and don’t worry about whether they can actually talk. They would not be called good quality people if they couldn’t lead by example. Good housekeeping starts with them, good environmental practices start with them, and following procedures starts with them. They can’t pass the buck to anybody else because, in a sense, the buck really does stop with them. They might not be the problem, but they are the ones who spotted it. They do their job with dignity, even if talk is not their forte. They have been hired to maintain and improve the quality of their operations, and they do that with their actions, not just their words.

Politicians are born successful

I believe that most politicians have not really had a great deal of experience working in large corporations or the private sector. Most dive into politics either because they studied law, their family was in politics, or because somehow their first job landed them there. They were born with that knack, ran with it, and became the elected official, congressman, or senator they are now. What an accomplishment. Somebody with a relatively limited track record becomes a politician and arrives in Washington to save Americans. Yahoo! But they were born to do that job, right?

Once they achieve politician status in the House or the Senate, politicians enjoy so many benefits. And rightfully so—as they know. They have a better healthcare plan than most of us. They have a better pension plan than most of us. They get a nice gym where they can exercise (and take pictures of themselves, too). They get to travel for free and attend conferences they think will help our country. They get nice offices in nice locations, all paid for with taxpayers’ money.

Last year I experienced a new phase in my career, that of owning an office. We carefully looked for it and found the best bargain we could get. We outfitted it conservatively, watching every dollar. It was so nerve-wracking to gamble this way with our money. What if the business did not succeed? What if nobody else called our business? Thankfully, our politicians don’t have to think about that. They play with our money, not theirs, so they don’t have to worry themselves sick about it. They can find the best office, in the best location, and get the best furniture.

We are lucky to have these people who don’t fit into other areas of work and who can serve the public. Really.

Quality professionals’ success
Quality professionals are not so lucky, not so naturally successful. They are successful because they work hard at it, and are always learning new ways to improve themselves and their organizations. Even if their family dealt in quality, they cannot get a quality job unless they have the credentials. Even if their first job was in quality, they cannot move up unless they have the experience. And whether they studied engineering or business, they cannot get the job unless they can demonstrate their knowledge and results. They are not voted in, but rather are carefully selected. They take continuous learning seriously and attain certifications that require them to adhere to high standards, which is practically another job in itself.

Quality people work hard for their companies and, most of the time, take the heat when a problem occurs. They are rarely patted on the back if a major efficiency problem is solved. Quality workers are humble, knowing their job is to improve operations without expecting a prominent spot in the limelight. Their health plans and pension plans are the same as anybody else’s in the organization. Their offices are like everyone else’s, or left in limbo between the front office and the production floor. But they don’t care. They are there to do the job, not to enjoy special privileges. That’s why they are called good quality professionals.

Politicians have guts

You have to agree that most politicians do things most people wouldn’t dare to do. Think about it. Run to Argentina for a fun weekend, leaving their post without telling anyone? Duck behind the Oval Office for sex? It takes a lot of guts to do that while you’re on the job. Never mind that you could be impeached, fired, jailed, or ridiculed; they have the guts to do it anyway. They are also creative, going through great efforts to hide this behavior as well as the unjustified expenses. Not only gutsy but pretty clever, if you ask me.

In my own career, I once caused a mistake to occur in one area of a firm’s operations. I was quickly put back on track, after several talks and walks to the manager office and the human resources department. I did not shift the blame to someone else. Rather, I took the blame and vowed never to create that problem again. Since then, I follow procedures and am careful when a potential problem looms near, regardless of where I’m working.

But great politicians have no such fear. They are just gutsy and defiant. When asked about something they did wrong, they put into practice their No. 1 trait, which is to put a good spin on something bad and convince people it wasn’t their fault. “A hacker hacked into my Twitter account.” Come on, you’ve got to admit, that’s clever. “I was climbing in the Andes in Argentina, not the Appalachians.” Andes… Argentina… Appalachians… so many As. It is so confusing. And of course, when all else fails: “It’s a media conspiracy.”

The quality professional’s courage
Good quality people behave just the opposite. They know that if things don’t work well, their jobs are on the line. They are not comfortable going behind somebody‘s back or against company policies. They will walk through fire to do the right thing for their firm or customer. Good quality professionals will never leave their job just as a new trial run is about to happen, or when a new process is about to start. They know they are needed, and they will take the responsibility to make things work. Good quality people work with operations to improve the quality of their products or services, and never leave them hanging. Good quality people stand by their quality policy and mean what they say. They may not be great risk takers. They may not be so gutsy as to throw themselves on the pyre, but they are likely to find themselves thrown on it just the same… and then be asked to put the fire out.

Politicians endure personal hardships

To be a politician, you must leave your family and hometown and go to this solitary place called Washington, D.C. Politicians leave their families and constituents for a lonely life where they do not feel at home.

In Washington, politicians get free gas and free passes to many places. This must cause much anxiety for them because they are used to being providers. Politicians always work into the wee hours to come up with excellent ideas about how to spend our money. They also have only about 100 days of vacation—I mean recess—each year to go see their families. Many choose not to do that in order to spend more time in their apartments in Washington. Plus they are forced to work with young, inexperienced people who greatly admire them.

We are so thankful that they go through such lengths to serve us that we pay for their rooms and board, and even travel expenses, on top of their salaries. Come on, it’s the least we can do! They have the onerous job of doing our thinking for us; is it too much to ask to give them a few perks?

What the quality professional endures
In contrast, the quality professional is usually the underdog. When things go right, somebody else usually has something to do with it. When something goes wrong, the quality person is considered to have had something to do with it, whether he did or not. The quality worker usually has to go back to his home every night, where he is expected to be part of the family and do household chores.

The good quality worker is usually the one who carries bad news when a process or product is bad, and reports it with integrity. He doesn’t get any more privileges than anybody else in the office. That’s because he usually just minds his own business and isn’t looking to be in the limelight.

Politicians are masters of correction plans

Every new politician who comes to Washington has something to correct. Whether she has a three-year plan, a five-year plan, a long-term strategic correction plan, or no plan at all, she comes in and magically has a solution to correct what is there. Obama had a healthcare plan to solve the healthcare problem. Not sure if it will work, but he had a plan. Governor Mitt Romney has a healthcare plan, too.

In quality management, we know problems must be understood before we can begin to correct them. Better yet, we need to correct the underlying causes of the problem so we can really solve the problem at its root. But politicians are also master magicians. They know what is needed to correct problems without even understanding what the problems are.

Look at traffic in major cities like Houston. The solution was to add more lanes to the freeways and maybe, just maybe, there wouldn’t be any traffic. Wrong. The traffic is still there. What about the millions paid for electric train programs that never make it past the design phase? But you can’t blame them for trying.

Another good example of politicians’ correction plans is the housing bust. What happens when people buy lots of houses with money they don’t have? What happens when banks loan a lot of money to people who cannot afford to pay it back? Politicians, of course, came up with a plan: bail out the banks so they will have more money to loan. There’s a correction plan for you.

You know, I wish I could have had that sense of security when I bought my little office. I mean, knowing that the politicians would save me in case my cash flow took a dive into the red would have been a great feeling.

And if these examples don’t offer enough proof that politicians like to correct problems, think about the debt ceiling. What could be the best solution to our government continuing to spend way beyond the budget? You got it, raise the ceiling. Bingo—problem solved.

I’m so happy that politicians can come up with these great corrections to problems. If nothing else, it makes people feel more secure when the problems recur.

Quality professionals’ correction plans
In contrast to that, good quality professionals have been taught that surface correction is ineffective; it solves only the low-hanging fruit of a problem that has deep roots. So when something goes wrong, rather than putting their effort into making it look good, they go back to finding the causes of the problem. They call this root cause analysis, and they do it before they come up with a corrective action.

Think of it as a plant that’s losing its leaves. The good quality professional will look at the soil and the roots to see if the plant needs food, nutrients, or water. Give a problem to a good quality person, and you will see that she won’t stop until the root of the problem is found. If your problem is about traffic, she will probably tell you that adding more lanes would be like putting more quality inspectors at the end of the production line. It just doesn’t work. Quality cannot be put in; rather, it has to be built into how a system operates.

What’s a quality professional to do?

Don’t despair, quality amigo. Good times are here, and we know you are there in the trenches getting it all sorted out. Luckily, things have changed, and many industries have finally realized that having a quality professional on their team is key, so this profession is a hot commodity nowadays. If you are out there trying to decide whether to go for politics or become a quality professional, then think about it: Do you like to walk the talk, do you work hard to improve yourself and your organization by championing improvements, can you solve problems from the bottom up, all without seeking to be in the limelight? If your answer is yes, then you are meant to be a quality professional... and a fine one, too.


About The Author

Miriam Boudreaux’s picture

Miriam Boudreaux

Miriam Boudreaux is the CEO and founder of Mireaux Management Solutions, a technology and consulting firm headquartered in Houston, Texas. Mireaux’s products and services encompass international standards ISO and API consulting, training, auditing, document control and implementation of Web QMS software platform. Mireaux’s 6,500 square foot headquarters, located in the northwest area of Houston, houses their main offices as well as their state-of-the art training center. Mireaux itself is certified to ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 27001:2013. To get in touch with Miriam Boudreaux, please contact her at info@mireauxms.com.


Quality Politics

Hi Miriam: I recently wrote to Taran March about certifying political Parties to ISO 9001 and SA 8000 or ISO equivalent: you have focused the key issues, thank you. I don't think being a "good politician" is antithetical to being a "good quality professional": I'm sure you would sincerely recognize that, when working as a quality consultant or teacher or auditor, a lot of "politics" is involved. Differences are not extreme, therefore, they have only to balanced, for common benefit. We need Politicians, though they arrogantly think the world is theirs, which actually is not; but isn't it a key quality issue to make people aware of whom they really are? Thank you. 

yes Politicians need a Quality Policy

Hi Umberto, I totally agree with you! Let's see what politicians have to say about objectives, policy, customer COMPLAINTS. I have thought about this too. Call me and we can see if any politician out there is willing to be put to the test. Hey our consulting office is doing it, and although it is easier said than done, now I not only believe in ISO, I think it is paramount to any business who wants to have a solid foundation.

A vs. B

I loved the technique of the comparative. I think it would be very interesting to continue this technique by comparing the quality profession to additional professions. Off the top of my head, how about teachers, artists, or physicians?

That's food for thought

Quality in everything we do, great concept!

Henry Ford on this subject

"Substituting the engineer for the politician is a very natural step forward. The engineer can do that which the politician can never do under any circumstances. The engineer creates and harmonizes while the politician can at best only rearrange what he has in hand." From "Today and Tomorrow" (1930).

Second that

As an engineer, I whole heartedly agree!