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 Quality Leadership

Core Beliefs

by Pat Townsend
and Joan Gebhardt

Leadership and Quality

If leadership and quality are not flip sides of the same coin, they were at least struck in the same mint. Without leadership, a quality effort inevitably transforms itself into a by-the-numbers productivity effort.

John Mellecker, a financial services executive, self-confessed leadership junkie and original thinker, proposes a definition of leadership that encapsulates an important lesson of the quality movement: Leadership is the creation of an environment in which others can self-actualize in the process of completing the task.

The use of the word "others" rather than "subordinates" allows organizational peers, juniors and seniors to contribute to an environment in which everyone can function at their best, in an atmosphere both rational (i.e., task-oriented) and emotional (personality-specific). If quality teaches anything, it teaches that leadership is a behavior, not a position.

Over the next several months, we'll look at an organization known for teaching leadership as a behavior separate from its organizational structure. The organization isperhaps surprisinglythe military. Stretching back at least 2,500 years, military theorists have compiled a written record of leadership experience and experiments, and they have done so with a particular sense of urgency. While leadership failures can cost any organization, there is a vast difference between being laid off and laid to rest. As a Motorola executive noted recently after visiting Civil War battlefields, "The military measures its mistakes in tombstones." To keep mistakes to a minimum and ensure that lessons learned will survive mistakes, the military carefully documents its successes. Anyone curious enough can investigate this vast body of leadership wisdom.

Upcoming columns will examine the principles of "followership" and leadership as well as leadership traits. Explanations of recommended approaches to mentoring, counseling and measuring leadership will draw from the military legacy. This month, leadership priorities take center stage. According to the military, there are three of them:

Accomplish the mission.

Take care of the troops.

Create more leaders.

These priorities dovetail nicely with Mellecker's leadership definition. Accomplishing the missionor completing the tasktakes precedence in every organization, whether military or civilian. The mission of corporate survival, though perhaps less blood-stirring than battlefield success, sits at the top of corporate priorities.

The real lesson the military has to offer civilian organizations concerns the next two priorities. In far too many organizations, taking care of the humans, without whom nothing would get done, generally falls low on the list. "Taking care" doesn’t mean simply paying a competitive wage; it predicates an environment in which people are treated respectfully, their accomplishments duly noted and appropriately applauded, and where job satisfaction, even joy, remain the norm rather than the exception. But this "fuzzy" aspect of leadership also pursues a bottom line: Employees with high morale work harder, longer and more productively.

The third priority, creating more leaders, offers both short-term and long-term benefits. Having leaders at every level, or encouraging self-actualization of the work force, greatly enhances the possibility that initiative, creativity and dedication will flourish throughout an organization; the accompanying positive impact on productivity and continual improvement is obvious.

And that's the link. Maintaining a system of formal and informal leadership education ensures quality in an organization. By viewing leadership as a behavior and encouraging its practice, organizations create a steady succession of leaders capable of moving through every layer of the organization. In so doing, these organizations greatly raise the odds of their own long-term survival.


Last month, we asked readers to answer a question. Rather to our surprise, no one seemed to have an opinion, although a lot of people read our column on the Web site. Perhaps the question wasn't clear enoughor controversial enough. We'd like to try again: Do you find the idea of using the U.S. military as a benchmark source for leadership lessons credible? Why or why not?

Please respond to ptownsend@qualitydigest.com. We look forward to hearing from you.


About the authors

Pat Townsend and Joan Gebhardt have written more than 200 articles and four books: 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); and Recognition, Gratitude & Celebration (Crisp Publications, 1997).



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