Quality Management Journal Book Reviews - July 2003 - ASQ

Quality Management Journal Book Reviews - July 2003


Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World.

2nd edition. Margaret J. Wheatley. 1999. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 197 pages.

Reviewed by James B. Kohnen, St. Mary’s College of California

Rarely does a book emerge from the mass of publications offered in today’s market to have a significant impact on thinking. Leadership and the New Science is a clear example of one of the gems that has the potential to achieve this lofty status. Using scientific principles Wheatley weaves an intricate web of metaphors that clarify and expand traditional concepts of organizational theory and leadership. At times the metaphors even transcend their traditional meaning, taking readers into a new realm of understanding and insight. The experience of reading this book is truly profound.

The second edition of this classic book, originally published in 1992, brings additional clarity to organizational theory through the use of contempory scientific metaphors. Advancements in both disciplines have provided a wealth of connections that Wheatley aptly uses to make her points about the way organizations work in today’s fast-paced environment. This is especially evident in her handling of chaos theory in dealing with the manner in which organizations re-create themselves much as the mythical Phoenix does out of its own ashes.

While the second edition is improved, the book makes one profound statement after another using the vocabulary of both science and organizational theory. Because of this, a fast reading of the material will quickly result in becoming overwhelmed in the detail unless one is very familiar with the concepts of physics, chemistry, biology, and organizational behavior. Sometimes Wheatley even redefines the scientific metaphors she uses to illustrate the organizational theories she discusses. This technique does make it harder to grasp the meaning of the text, but the challenge of reading the material adds to the excitement of discovery that it affords. It is a book to be savored and it is truly worth the effort.

The book is only 175 pages long, although it seems longer because of various introductory segments and 20 pages of references, bibliographic material, an index, and information about Wheatley herself. It is divided into nine chapters that start out discovering the orderly world through the lenses of biology, chemistry, and physics. The paradoxes of individual identity that each organism maintains in its relation with others, disruptive structures that self-organize into new forms of order, and the statistical description of things in the subatomic quantum world clearly set the stage for seeing organizations in a different light.

Wheatley takes her paradigm shift to the next level when she postulates that organizations are best understood when taken as a whole rather than the sum of their parts. Her claim is that organizational studies have unsuccessfully followed the Newtonian process of breaking things apart and putting them back together again to understand them. The artificial boundaries created in this process are replaced by quantum physics concepts of identification of the relationships of things as seen from a whole perspective. This approach is said to present a clearer picture of how organizations actually cope with internal and external demands as they move through their life cycle.

The implications of this holistic approach on leadership are profound. An individual assumes a leadership position in his or her organization because of his or her relationship with others. One’s role is to guide the organization through its life cycle using information about the system in which it operates and the values it holds. The key to leadership in this realm is to encourage freedom to act rather than to attempt to control every reaction.

The second edition of Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World is a well-written, thoroughly researched, and thought-provoking book that provides a unique perspective to organizational theory. The message is clearly supported by the scientific metaphors that are embedded in the principles of organizational theory that are reviewed. Reading or rereading the book fulfills Margaret Wheatley’s goal of discovery of new ways of being together.


RUDE Awakenings: Over-coming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace.

Giovinella Gonthier with Kevin Morrissey. 2002. Chicago: Dearborn Trade Publishing. 227 pages.

Reviewed by Patricia M. Kohnen, ChevronTexaco

A focus on civility and respect can help a business reinforce its commitment to quality and excellence. The wellness of an organization and individuals who work for it, as well as the bottom line, can be negatively impacted by incivility.

In the introduction to her book the author states that she has lived and worked all over the world and encountered all kinds of rudeness, bullying, maltreatment, and injustice. She takes a broad view of civility: “Civility is being mindful of the dignity of the human being in your sphere at all times. Civility is not so much about niceties as it is about the way we live our lives overall and the way we treat other people.”

The book is organized into seven chapters that use actual work-related scenarios to illustrate the material. References are made to programs that are in place at Sprint and Shell. It also has appendices that include a “Civility in the Workplace” quiz and a sample survey that could be used as part of a needs analysis to determine objectives for developing a civility program within an organization. An order form for workbooks is also included.

Chapter 1 is “The Evolution of Incivility in Our Times.” It does a good job of setting the stage for the rest of the book. It discusses items such as the decline in family life and community, sleep deprivation, and transience and technology.

Chapter 2 is “The Business Imperatives of Civility.” The opening paragraph includes the statement that “The risks of taking a passive stance toward bad behavior are too high.” Important elements of a business such as retention, productivity and morale, customer service, and health can be negatively impacted by incivility. Civility can have positive impacts on elements such as reinforcing values and training, and preparing for a global work force.

Chapter 3 gives practical guidance on how to teach a civility course in the workplace, and chapter 4 provides both examples of uncivil behavior and potential solutions. Chapter 4 will probably cause readers to think about civil and uncivil behavior that they have experienced throughout their career. It is the most substantial chapter in the book.

Chapter 5 is written by Jill Bremer who is an image trainer, consultant, and Certified Image Professional (CIP) of the Association of Image Consultants International. She addresses some of the most common appearance and grooming challenges faced in today’s workplace. Solutions are suggested to provide guidance to the manager and supervisor so that problems can be resolved and no longer will cause tension or incivility between workers.

Chapter 6 is a brief chapter about conflict management, and the final chapter, chapter 7, is called “Systemic Change: Implementing a Civility Policy in the Workplace.” In the first paragraph the author states “I must emphasize once again that it is cost effective to be proactive and put a civility program into place before an incident has occurred or a lawsuit has been filed. Once you put procedures in place for promoting civil behavior in your company, the number and severity of complaints about incivility will decline—after a successful civility initiative has been in place for about a year.” The author states that Sprint addresses two of the most critical areas where incivility can occur (during meetings and when problem solving) in the Sprint Quality Handbook, which is distributed to every employee in print form and posted on the company’s intranet.

This book gives attention to a workplace incivility phenomenon that is not new, but has received little attention. Creating an atmosphere of civility so employees turn their full attention to customers and their needs, rather than bickering among themselves, can provide a competitive edge for a business in this era of economic downturn.


The Trust Imperative: Performance Improvement Through Productive Relationships.

Stephen K. Hacker and Marsha L. Willard. 2002. Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press. 147 pages.

Patricia M. Kohnen, ChevronTexaco

Stephen K. Hacker is the director of The Performance Center of the Oregon University System, which helps build academic and industrial relationships to achieve profound performance improvement. Marsha L. Willard is CEO of Axis Performance Advisors, Inc., a Portland, Oregon, firm specializing in helping organizations work through challenges. This book that they have written, with contributions from Laurent Couturier, explains how to develop trust throughout an organization while improving performance and increasing productivity. Their book offers simple conceptual models, assessments, and trust tools that will help individuals diagnose, measure, and improve the level of trust within the organization. Also included are succinct tips and techniques to support the continuous development of trust within any organization.

In the introduction the authors debunk several misconceptions about trust such as “trust depends on the other person,” “trust everyone or trust no one,” and “trust takes time.”

The six chapters in this book each cover a topic and include a conclusion, a key concepts list, and endnotes, which list references. About half of the book is its appendices, which address trust assessments and tools for trust. This format makes the book easy to read and to use as a reference tool and workbook for developing trust within an organization.

Chapter 1 addresses the necessity for trust. Trust plays a role related to various aspects of an organization such an effectiveness, efficiency, quality, innovation, quality of work life, productivity, and profitability.

Chapter 2 is about the anatomy of trust. Readers are asked to think of the person they trust the most and the person whom they trust the least and to determine what characteristics and qualities those people have that inspire either trust or distrust. The authors suggest that three critical components of trust are consistency, commitment, and capability.

Chapter 3 is about the willingness to trust. The authors discuss three areas in which all people must test their willingness to move a relationship forward. They describe three factors as the hinges on the door of trust. The three factors are willingness to invest, willingness to examine assumptions, and willingness to risk.

Chapter 4 is about the trust equation. The Trust Performance Equation includes elements of chapters 2 and 3. In addition, the authors discuss approaching trust from three different major perspectives or levels: self-trust, interpersonal trust, and institutional trust.

Chapter 5 is about diagnostics for trust. The opening paragraph of this chapter states, “The previous chapters provide a grounding in the concepts of trust. This chapter introduces a set of assessments that translate those concepts into specific behaviors and practices for the purpose of diagnosing the level of trust in your own relationships. This assessment process will enable you to focus your trust-building efforts on those areas where they will have the most impact” (p. 47). The assessments are included in Appendix A.

Chapter 6, the final chapter, is on developing trust. The authors present several considerations for approaching trust development. Tools are listed in Appendix B.

This book is easy to read but provides much food for thought and practical advice and tools to improve trust in many situations.


The Courage to Act: 5 Factors of Courage to Transform Business.

Merom Klein and Rod Napier. 2003. Palo Alto: Davies-Black Publishing. 264 pages.

Reviewed by Anita Halton, Anita Halton and Associates

Why talk about courage in a business book? Our fascination with courage is nothing new. Since the dawn of time, people have been drawn to those who courageously face extraordinary moments of truth, or through their courage change the course of history. Yet, we live in a world where courage is in short supply, especially in the workplace, where the prevailing insecurity and uncertainty about the next merger or reorganization makes it hard to stand tall behind one’s values.

“We are taught to believe that courage is intrinsic—that you have it or you don’t,” explains Merom Klein, director of the Courage Institute. “But, our research and experience tells us something else.” In The Courage to Act Merom Klein and Rod Napier put the skills to act with courage in the hands of ordinary people who want to achieve extraordinary results at work. With detailed case studies spanning four continents and dozens of countries—from Fortune 500 companies to entrepreneurial businesses, military and civilian government agencies—the authors lay out the five factors needed to face adversity, seize opportunities, deal with ambiguity, and make extraordinary things happen:

  • Candor: The courage to speak and hear the truth
  • Purpose: The courage to pursue lofty and audacious goals
  • Will: The courage to inspire optimism, spirit, and promise
  • Rigor: The courage to invent disciplines and make them stick
  • Risk: The courage to empower, trust, and invest in relationships

As a citizen of Israel, Klein is witness firsthand to the courage it takes to live in an extraordinarily diverse country facing uncertain and difficult times. But, living on high alert in a constant state of vigilance and readiness is no longer confined to those who live in war-torn countries. In the pace and pressure of today’s workplace, people face situations that require courage that they could not imagine a decade or a generation ago.

Furthermore, the team-based structure of fast, nimble companies brings together people of diverse backgrounds and specialties, often without the security of a familiar hierarchical chain of command and sense of community necessary for trust.

So, in workplaces where jobs can change with the stroke of a pen and compromising is easier than taking the high road, the courage to know and speak the truth and inspire hope and trust in relationships is what defines the high performers. The Courage to Act addresses having to make tough, painful, and sometimes unpopular decisions to achieve goals and comply with standards and about what to do when one has to sell a vision rather than build consensus. It discusses the courage to say, “the buck stops here” and accept accountability, even if the “higher-ups” are not behaving as they should. It shows team members how to:

  • Speak openly
  • Take greater risks with less fear
  • Work for the good of the team over individual interests
  • Act like the loyal opposition without the fear of retribution
  • Give and receive feedback
  • Achieve value from working toward clear and compelling goals
  • Influence others by the combined will of the team and unity of purpose
  • Work more seamlessly across complex systems where influence rather than power and control will determine success
  • Ask tough diagnostic questions of themselves, their bosses, their customers, and their suppliers.

The Courage to Act also introduces a unique diagnostic tool called “The Courage Index” by which team leaders can measure the courage level of their team by assessing areas of strength and weakness using 30 tough questions. In chapters devoted to building each factor of courage, they also learn such skills as how to introduce performance standards or changes that may be unsettling or uncomfortable, empower teammates to resolve conflicts, and coach team members who play a pivotal role with other colleagues.

Klein and Napier point out that there are always reasons why courage is unreasonable and why lack of courage is understandable and justifiable. Since one of the five factors is “risk,” there is a possibility of failure or loss and no guarantee that everything will turn out fine if one acts with courage and does what is right. As an example, they cite Johnson & Johnson for taking a risk by pulling Tylenol off the shelves before knowing whether they would ever recover from the bad publicity, and Sherron Watkins for blowing the whistle at Enron, although her call was left unheeded until it was too late.

When team members learn to celebrate and embrace courage, there is enormous benefit to the organizational and team psyche. When leaders empower their teams, they contribute to the success of the entire enterprise. If rising to challenges, doing the right thing, and taking risks to support other parts of the organization is simply “what we do here,” it becomes contagious. As Klein and Napier write, “This is what we hope to provide leaders—the capacity to normalize acts of courage within their teams.”


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