Beyond the Org Chart

"Lead, follow or get out of the way.”

Did you know this saying, now a cliché in the work world, was written in the 1700s by Thomas Paine, the American revolutionary and author of Common Sense? (See www.quotedb.com/quotes/1738.)

The cause that inspired Paine’s declaration was much more significant and essential than the reasons many people in business fall back on to justify their often cavalier use of the saying.

I imagine Paine and his fellow revolutionaries—each a leader in his or her own way—might be amused (amazed?) at how the concept of leadership has transformed over the past 200-plus years. Today, we tend to identify leaders by their titles or positions: a department manager or CEO within a business, the chancellor of a university, an elected government official. Similarly, most literature on leadership is directed at those formal leaders whose titles place them toward the top of organizational charts.

But leadership is really about behavior, not titles, rank or status. In fact, the first few definitions of “lead” in Webster’s New World College Dictionary (fourth edition, Wiley, 2002) describe specific behaviors: “To show the way to, or direct the course of, by going before or along with … to guide or direct, as by persuasion or influence, to a course of action or thought …”

Each of us has followed someone who exhibited these behaviors, no matter what the person’s title or status. Likewise, we have probably all turned away from people whose formal positions designated them leaders but whose behavior in no way resembled any of the above definitions.

Some people would even say formal leaders may be the least likely to get others to follow them. In “Seduce Them With Success” (p. 35), Jay Arthur argues that contrary to popular belief, it’s not executives who drive the success of Six Sigma or other change initiatives but rather the informal leaders within an organization. “The typical hierarchy chart shows the formal organization but doesn’t begin to show all the informal communication links between individuals,” Arthur writes. “These are the informal leaders—the hubs in the culture’s network,” he continues. “CEOs may come and go, but these people remain and steer the business toward success or failure.”

Steve Prevette (“Lead To Succeed,” p. 26) is one such informal leader, in my view. I asked him to write his article because I thought it would be helpful for you to see how a fellow quality professional—someone whose official position is several levels down the organizational chart—has become a leader using his unique tools and knowledge.

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