Total Quality Leadership . . .

“Quality is the result of a carefully constructed cultural environment. It has to be the fabric of the organization, not part of the fabric.”   – Phil Crosby

In the early 1980s the US was losing the quality race to the Japanese.   With the enlightened guidance of W. Edwards Demming and the energy of Philip Crosby the Total
Quality movement (TQM) took hold in the US and Europe.

I recall a presentation made by one of my clients, the CEO of Avco (later acquired by Textron) where he began his keynote address at a TQM Summit by asking the audience what quality rating they would give the hotel restaurant that had just dealt with the hundreds of summit participants for breakfast.  Needless to say while the food was of good quality, the service quality was a failure.  The speaker made his point; quality is in the eyes and experience of the customer, not hotel checklists!

Over the course of the past several decades great strides have been made in making quality an integrated part of every successful business.  Those that didn’t are long buried in the business graveyard.  In fact, today, quality is an entry level requirement, it gets you in the business game but is not enough for sustained success.  Yet without a culture of quality you don’t even get to play.

I say it’s time for a new quality movement, Total Quality Leadership.

With product and service quality now a standard part of business, let’ turn our attention to an even more important dimension of quality: leadership.  And specifically I recommend we focus on three key aspects of leadership quality.  I call them the Three “Must”-keteers:

  • Quality of Leadership
  • Quality of Strategy
  • Quality of Execution

And I believe they are imperative to sustained business success.  While each is vital, there is also a hierarchy, since brilliantly executing a poor strategy is pointless and it is impossible to develop a high quality strategy or deliver quality execution without quality leadership.

“Leadership cannot be taught. It can only be learned.”                  – Harold S. Geneen

Quality of Leadership

One of the major ways I distinguish a leader from a manager is in the person’s ‘perspective”.  Leaders have the perspective that their remit covers the entire organization.  They have both a vertical and a horizontal perspective. Even if they are tasked with leading a function, they still always take on the broader responsibility of making certain the entire organization performs. What I term “managers” (even those with big titles and who sit at the leadership team table) on the other hand have a one dimensional view, usually confined to their own function (HR, Manufacturing, Engineering, Purchasing, Finance, etc.) and what happens inside their function is their remit, not what happens in other functions.

The “leadership perspective” is not taken on just because of title, role or job description.  It is taken on because those with real leadership savvy understand that for the entire organzation to succeed, ideas, information, people and assets must move quickly across organizational boundaries as required to maximize overall delivery.  Many a great organization with great people and great products move at a snail’s pace against their competition because of the lack of “leadership perspective” at all levels.  After all, it is entirely possible for each function to achieve its individual objectives but the entire company still fail!

Management is necessary, leadership is essential.   – General Duane H. Cassidy

(For some additional thoughts on leadership, see a recent blog posting)

Next time I will talk about the other two “Must”-keters: Quality of Strategy and Quality of Execution.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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3 Responses to Total Quality Leadership . . .

  1. Pingback: An example of “leadership perspective” . . . | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

  2. Pingback: TQM 2.0: Quality of Strategy | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

  3. Pingback: HW 2.0 | Total Quality Management (TQM)

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