In his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” John Maxwell asked, “with whom are we working to prepare to take over when we leave?” With many quality professionals facing retirement decisions, how would you answer this question? No matter the position in your organization, we are all leaders and perform a valuable service as quality professionals.

We, the members, stewards and professionals of quality, need to mentor others through practicing, teaching and executing quality in all we do. We need to reach out and support others in their efforts to improve themselves, and also the tasks for which they are accountable. We need to help others develop and hone the skills and knowledge that they will need, not only to succeed but to excel. Mentoring quality professionals and future leaders should not be limited to a few individuals. Rather we should reach out to all of those around us and help everyone with whom we interact.

So how do we make this happen? How can we possibly mentor everyone? One way we can accomplish this is by encouraging those we mentor to, in turn, mentor others-thereby passing along the knowledge and skills they have learned along the way. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to instill within those we mentor the proper attitudes regarding leadership and development of others.

To be successful as a mentor, we should be working to improve ourselves as well as those we are mentoring. As quality professionals it is important to be committed to being life-long learners. We need to keep our minds open to new learning situations and the opportunities to acquire, practice and hone our leadership and quality skills. It is through this learning and acquiring of new skills that we maintain and strengthen our value to ourselves, our organizations and our communities. It is through using new knowledge and practicing new skills that we keep quality alive and growing, nurturing and transforming it to meet the challenges of today, tomorrow and beyond.

There are many ways we can learn about leadership and, in the process, develop and prepare ourselves for the future. We should practice leadership not only in the workplace, but also in our communities and our personal lives. To accomplish this, we must become involved. We cannot sit on the sidelines as a spectator. We must become involved in helping others learn at work and in professional societies and other organizations. We must become farmers, if you will, planting the seeds, fertilizing, nurturing and growing the future generation of quality leaders.

We are all leaders and, conversely, we are all followers. We all need to become practitioners of life-long learning and mentoring. We can begin by trying to answer the question, “Who is my legacy?” If we can’t answer that question in less than a minute, we should look around to see who we can mentor. It also may mean that we need to look and see whose legacy we can become before those quality professionals move on either through advancement or retirement.

Also, consider participating in your local American Society for Quality (ASQ) section as a volunteer on one of many leadership positions. This is a great way to learn from others, learn by interacting, doing and helping others succeed.

As current chair of American Society for Quality Section 1211, the Heart of Illinois chapter, I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to participate in ASQ, SAE, SME or any of the multitude of professional societies that exist worldwide. Be it engineering, mathematics and statistics, or any other field that is touched by quality and leadership, there exists a society of skilled professionals that will be well worth the price of membership. It is a terrific way to learn and grow as a professional, and to share your knowledge, experience and wisdom with others.

Who knows? Perhaps someone you mentor will become the next W. Edwards Deming or Joseph M. Juran-a new quality giant!