Integrity and Leadership
The most important characteristic of successful leadership is integrity. We need to trust those who show the way so that we can commit to them without becoming disillusioned. In other words, we need to know they will keep their word.
The integrity factor becomes obvious with those in public life; every day, the record is set out for all to see. We then trust these public figures or not, respect them or not. Without integrity, leaders are considered unreliable.
The integrity requirement exists in the business world, too, despite deviations that routinely weaken integrity's influence. The most prominent deviations perpetuate the variation myth, the idea that nonconformance is unavoidably built into life. This myth, present in most quality policies, allows organizations to offer less-than-perfect products and services. Consequently, companies expect nonconformances now and then, and believe nothing much can be done about them beyond attempting to document and control them. Unfortunately, quality professionals represent variation's main supporters. Rather than ensuring that their organizations produce quality products and services, they have formalized accepting a few nonconformances here and there.
Recently, a Department of Defense supplier with whom I had a relationship early in my career invited me to visit. Before I toured any work areas, the company wanted me to guess its biggest problems. When I knew them years ago, their biggest problems included delays in processing nonconforming items through the material review crib, delays in deliveries to customers at the end of each month, and nonconforming products and services received from the company's own suppliers.
My analysis was still correct, except that software now comprises much of the company's output. Customers accept the fact that they never receive exactly what they order, and the software requires debugging as a matter of course. They've learned to work around this. When a rocket fails at Cape Canaveral, for example, the first place investigators look is in the configuration control log, which tracks every nonconformance.
This happens because the company has accepted variation in every element of work life. Instead of using tolerances to deal with machinery limits and thus create consistency, it uses material review to deal with nonconformances. "Acceptable quality levels" exist to excuse errors. In the commercial world, this creates warranty costs and unhappy customers.
Integrity means more than honest behavior. It means planning for, and achieving, quality products and services without establishing artificial limitations. The idea that uncontrollable forces affect the work process belongs in the Middle Ages with witchcraft. It's a concept that reduces the effort put forth to do things properly.
When I hit a poor golf shot one day, my partner said, "That was an attack of variation." Actually, it was a nonconforming swing; I need to concentrate on doing better. If I think bad swings just happen, then I'll never improve. I have to be disappointed that it occurred, but it happened because of what I did or didn't do, not because the fairies of circumstance were hexing me.
An organization's integrity originates with its quality professionals. If they believe in mythology, then the entire company will reflect it. If they insist on a clear quality policy -- "We will make certain that we deliver defect-free products and services to our customers and co-workers on time" -- then integrity has a chance.
If, instead, they run efficient deviation control systems, they will encourage people to do sloppy work. If they figure out how to use nonconforming products from suppliers, then they will implant nonconformances into the production process and lack of integrity into the organization.
We're seeing how a lack of integrity impacts many countries' financial practices, elected leaders' personal behavior, software's reliability and consumer products' durability. Professionals in any field must look at the pressures they experience in their daily work. How much of their time is spent dealing with things that should have been correct in the first place?
About the author
Philip B. Crosby, a popular speaker and founder of Philip Crosby Associates--now PCA II--is also the author of several books, including Quality Is Still Free (McGraw-Hill, 1995) and The Absolutes of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 1996). Visit his Web site at www.philipcrosby.com .