Is Every Quality Professional a Leader?

Here at ASQ we’ve introduced a powerful idea that I think can and should help shape our future.

The idea is this: Every quality professional, a leader.

Like a lot of fundamentally important concepts, this sounds simple and straightforward but needs to be thought out a bit.  In short, we want, need, and expect every one of our members—and indeed,  every person in the quality community—to grow and develop as leaders.

We at ASQ understand and endorse this idea and accept the implicit responsibility to help our members do just that.  You may hear much about leadership, but some—or even many—quality professionals don’t get opportunities to participate in leadership training. For a lot of ASQ members, I am convinced that whatever we provide may be the only leadership training they get.

So what is this connection between leadership and quality, and why is it so important?  Simply put, the quality professional, wherever he or she may be and at whatever level of management, must be a leader to be effective.  The quality professional at work somewhere in the quality field is not an artist alone at the canvas. That professional is bringing insight, tools, principles, and personal example to someone—to some crew, team, or section; to a business unit; or to something even bigger, such as a hospital, a federal agency, or a school system.

This task is going to be bigger than the sole person, perhaps much bigger.  It will involve other people, with all of their complexities, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears.  So whatever our quality professional is working on, it is going to take leadership to get the job done.

Some have made the case recently that quality professionals lack the business skills needed to connect with the C-suite. Others note that quality professionals sometimes lack the “soft skills” needed to make the case for quality outside the quality department. Leadership encompasses all of the above. Business savvy, people skills, and decisive action all are required to get results in the world.

Now I want to hear from you. Do you think you are a quality leader? What kind of leadership training did you receive and was it enough?

How Do You “Sell” Quality?

In my role as CEO of ASQ, I have many opportunities to explain quality. And here and there I have a chance to “sell” quality to a decision-maker.  What happen as a result of these explanations and sales pitches is uncertain to me, but I welcome any opportunity to raise the voice of quality and spread the word.

I was in Stockholm, Sweden, last Wednesday, conducting a Future of Quality workshop for the Swedish Institute for Quality (SIQ.) Over the years I’ve conducted these workshops all over the world and we end the workshop with a question.  “Given all I’ve learned about the future of quality, and the changes in quality management that I can now anticipate, the pressing question I’d most like an answer to is….?”

Nearly every workshop will include some variation of this question.  How do I convince senior executives (often CEOs) and public officials that quality is important and an essential strategy for–pick your ending–performance excellence, competitiveness, growth, sustainability, survival, efficiency, effectiveness?

I know this question has plagued the quality community for close to 70 years.  I can hear the good Dr. Deming answer, “You don’t have to change (use quality). Survival isn’t mandatory.” Dr. Deming had a good way of challenging thought.

Those of you who “sell” quality, and have the opportunity to pitch to senior decision makers:  What have you found to be the essential answer? And for those who have the experience of taking the message globally, does the same pitch work everywhere, or do you have to adjust the story to accommodate cultural differences?

(I reference the Future of Quality workshop, which is based on the triennial ASQ Future of Quality Study. I also recommend a companion work by Greg Watson, Chairman of the International Academy of Quality.)