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Follow the Leader

What kind of leader do you want to be?


In times of crisis, we turn to our leaders. For example, following the events of Sept. 11, our nation turned to its leaders for guidance. In fact, despite the controversy surrounding his election, George W. Bush's approval rating recently measured higher than any president's in history.

 Employees also turn to their leaders--managers, directors and CEOs--for direction in times of crisis. Although the recent economic downturn can hardly be labeled a crisis, it is testing the leadership of many organizations, including those with robust quality programs. The recent palace coup at Ford, which replaced CEO Jacques Nasser with William Clay Ford, is an excellent example.

 Judging from the plethora of leadership books on the market (e.g., Patton on Leadership; Elizabeth I, CEO; and The Genius of Robert E. Lee), corporate America yearns for lessons on leadership.

 This leadership vacuum also affects quality professionals. It's no secret that successful organizations have great leaders and managers who are truly committed to quality. The ISOcrats acknowledged this when they mandated management commitment in ISO 9001:2000. The newly revised standard requires tangible evidence of management commitment to continual improvement.

 Although it's easy to mandate leadership, it's often difficult to demonstrate it. W. Edwards Deming instructed managers to "Drive out fear!" Management guru Ken Blanchard urges clear and timely communication. Other leadership theories range from becoming a corporate cheerleader to strategizing like ancient Japanese samurai.

 Which approach is best? How can you, as a quality professional, be the leader your organization needs you to be? I believe the best leaders are good followers; they follow the examples of leaders they admire.

 The recent WWJD movement in Christian thinking is an example of this. WWJD stands for "What would Jesus do?" The thought is to pause when making a decision and to think for a moment of what Jesus would do faced with the same choice. It's a simple concept that's become very popular and very helpful to a number of people around the world. I'm not necessarily advocating that anyone adopt the WWJD approach, but it does provide a good example of a leadership model to follow.

 When was the last time you thought about what kind of leader you are? Or, more important, what kind of leader you would like to be?

 I bet it's easy for you to name leaders you despise--former managers, dictators, etc. But have you spent much time learning from good leaders? Some good leaders seem to have been born that way, but most have stumbled and learned lessons along the way that have made them leaders to be admired, not feared.

 In today's turbulent times and uncertain economy, good leaders are precious assets to their organizations. Invest in your career by taking the time to learn from good leaders. Read one or two of the multitude of leadership books available. Reflect on how your mom or dad might have handled a decision you're facing. Outline (yes, actually write down) the traits of leaders you admire and determine how you can adapt your leadership style accordingly.

 I'd like to know whom you consider to be a great leader--current or past. E-mail your thoughts on leadership to me at .

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