Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What is necessary for every quality professional to be a leader?

The November 2014 ASQ Influential Voices lead blog post posits an idea from the ASQ CEO: Every quality professional, a leader. My first reaction was that I have talked about the required education of leaders in the quality profession. The next piece of information that I found important was an IndustryWeek tweet advertising their 3-part, 1993 interview with Dr. Deming entitled, “Management today does not know what its job is.” Which led me to re-read Bill Troy’s post with the following question in mind: Is there enough information provided to make this idea executable?

I believe that leadership is a collection of behaviors. From the blog post I was looking for the expected behaviors that would make this idea actionable and I did not find many. I saw the proof of this with the number of varied responses from the community. Being a leader is personal to every professional. What follows are my thoughts on required leader behaviors.

A leader is not a persona that is turned on and off. The most important behavior is that you must be yourself. This is not a trained behavior. It comes down to how you share of yourself to your group. A leader does not have to be liked; they have to be clear in who they are. What you say and do have to be consistent in who you are. “It is not enough to talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.” These two things help build trust and a leader cannot be effective without the trust of the group. A book that brought this home to me is Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust.

The blog post mentions the need to be effective as a leader. If the quality professional is enforcing standards or recommending change, there has to be an element of trust such that the standard is real or that the change is necessary. Both sources have to be grounded in tangible proof. Without that source there is a loss of leadership trust. Standards are often regulatory but can be expectations. Change may be mandated but also can be part of expectations. To me that is where the link to vision and planning are crucial. Business strategy makes the case for change and it allows the team a touchstone when things get chaotic. The leader has to be part of the strategy, its main enforcer and interpreter and its champion. If the leader does not believe in the strategy it does not get executed.

A behavior that is a crucial for leaders is communication. This is a HARD skill to master. For a leader, I believe, you have to be clear in what it is that you want to communicate such that the team interprets the message in the same manner as the leader. One behavior that I have found is necessary that is not widely mentioned is empathy. You have to understand the group and how the message will be received to ensure the message will be interpreted as the leader intends. Empathy requires understanding your team, their needs, their expectations, and the challenges that they will face. Empathy is tied to listening. A leader needs to listen more than talk.

The last required skill is self-confidence. The leader, when faced with a choice, always asks, is this the right choice? The leader must be committed to the choice which means clearing communicating the choice, working towards successful completion of the choice, and take ownership of the consequences.

The one thing that is missing, and it is the hardest leadership trait for me, is to SMILE. There are times when the dour expression is warranted but a team must enjoy their work to stay a team and the energy a leader brings with just a smile is often the energy necessary to get over a hurdle.

As for training, I have had my share of classroom training but I have found that the key leadership skills are not taught in formal training programs but mentored. My definition of mentoring involves, self-reflection, outside reinforcement from a trusted source, and the need to talk things through. A leader cannot be a loner. They have to share with someone those challenges and a “mentor” is a trusted friend or colleague that, as a leader, you can bounce off ideas and draw strength from. Effective leaders have someone that they rely on.

Proposing the idea that all quality professionals should strive to be leaders is a good goal. Although the blog post provides some behaviors, we need to see from ASQ more in desired expectations to make this actionable. Although we can do some self-reflection on how we can personally execute this idea, I would offer that the ASQ needs to place more emphasis on leadership in the Quality Body of Knowledge other than just stating that people need to be leaders.