Bill Troy asked two questions to quality professionals in his November 6th blog: Is every quality professional a leader? The two questions are, Do you think you are a quality leader? And, what kind of leadership training did you receive and was it enough?
Let me start with question 2. There are too many sources recommending different techniques, recipes, and programs. Some of these sources compile large lists of traits that a leader should have, reducing leadership to personality characteristics. Other sources seem to concentrate on the example of historical and business personalities and their particular achievements. The first invites to develop those features while the second requests that we should be more like those mythical figures of the Mount Olympus of leadership. My friend Gerardo Porras, a well known business leader himself here in Costa Rica, compiled a list of no less than 40 leadership theories, including some with very suggesting names such as “Attila the Hun Leadership Model”. As Gerardo would say, most of these well-intentioned models produce no results at all. So, even though there is nothing wrong with reading a ton of leadership books, or attending a pricy seminar, I believe that most of us learn to internalize and interpret our own leadership mark from experiences (good and bad).
For me, my first leadership school was my basketball team at Don Bosco Technical High, through my coaches, especially Father Calvillo, a short Guatemalan priest; I learned my first leadership lessons, mainly in integrity. He made it very clear that he could direct and guide us, but he could not play the game for us. Later in life, as a quality professional, I had the privilege to work for Ricardo Falco, VP of Panduit and General Manager of the Costa Rica operation. “Don” Ricardo as we used to call him, was the kind of boss everybody dreams to have at least once. At some point during my term at Panduit I kept working late every day, Don Ricardo called me to his “gerencia” office and told me this: “Edwin I have noticed you have been working late repeatedly, so either you are not good at what you do, or I have given you too much responsibilities for a single person. I know you are excellent at what you do, so I have asked headquarters for some extra budget so you can hire your first quality engineer (at the time I was a one person quality department). I need you to go home to your family at a normal hour everyday, life is more than just work”. We are not talking about a soft guy here, Rick Falco as he is known in the corporation, knew how to act in different circumstances and his leadership style helped him made millions of dollars for Panduit. So there you have it, my basketball coaches and one particularly outstanding boss help me shape my own leadership style. This sort of experience is probably true for most leaders.
As for question one, am I a quality leader? That is a tough question. I would say it is not for me to answer that. But, I know this; every quality professional should strive to be a leader. Each one of us has an important message to communicate, so we must go ahead and communicate it. We have the opportunity to network with all departments; it is our duty to bring excellence everywhere we go. We have to be passionate about quality, continuous improvement and excellence. We have to love what we do, if you don’t like quality, or just don’t care about it, please go work in a different area.
I have taught quality in a dozen countries, most of the time I have successfully transmitted my love and belief for this beautiful profession to others, so that is my contribution and my mark. Each one of us has to find his/her own way to influence others, whether it is a small department or a big crowd.
So, in summary, we find our own internal leader as we learn from those who lead us, formal training will help but in a lesser degree (once we separate the noise from the real message). And each one of us is responsible for transmitting the practices, habits and behaviors of excellence to as many people as we can, starting with those closest to us.