Leadership 101: How to lead and what not to do
Quality problems can involve defects, recalls, and sometimes, curses.
John Jennings describes how he once had to deal with an unusual problem. A pregnant employee came to him and said that a coworker put a curse on her unborn child. He asked the other coworker, did you put a curse? When the coworker said yes, he told them, “You have to take it off.” So they did.
Being a quality leader means solving problems between people just as much as managing processes, says Jennings, who spoke about his work at the ASQ Inspection Division Conference in October and explained some of the challenges he’s seen in his 38 years in manufacturing. According to Jennings, management duties include: allocating resources, internal and external communication, professional development of personnel, promoting cross training, and adult day care.
“Perhaps nothing has as much impact on an organization as how well it’s led,” according to The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, Fourth Edition. “Leadership is not solely the responsibility of those who reside at the higher levels of the hierarchy. Instead, it’s an activity in which anyone who’s interested in the success of an organization can take part.”
A good leader listens, communicates well, and collaborates with others. They understand how to get things done and are willing to put in the work.
ASQ LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The Academy’s successive programs are designed to develop new leaders, strengthen the skillsets of emerging leaders, propel advanced leaders at a pivotal stage of their careers, and foster quality networking and thought leadership amongst executive leaders.
Hemant Betrabet, ASQ’s executive director of organizational solutions, said, “We have consistently heard from our members and customers that they want and need a partner to help guide them on their career path. The ASQ Leadership Academy is that partnership.”
Betrabet explains that the academy benefits both individuals and the organizations for which they work.
“Individuals benefit by developing the skills they need to advance their careers and tackle more impactful projects or roles in their companies,” he said. “The companies they work for benefit from this development and retention of their high potential staff, as well. It aids in succession planning, problem-solving, networking, and gaining best practices and new ideas from other leading organizations.”
This applies to both company leadership positions and also professional organizations. Often, there may not be a lot of glory but you can take satisfaction in the work.
In other words, don’t take on a leadership role because you want the title, says Samuel Prasad, the ASQ section chair for Long Island. The organization describes itself as “dedicated to the progress of quality practices”—and Prasad is just as dedicated.
Though he was first told that the time commitment as section chair might be two or three hours a month, Prasad says that sometimes it can be two or three hours a day. Despite the hours involved, he enjoys the work.
“If you take on a leadership role, a lot of times you have to do everything,” Prasad says. “You need to be able to invest the time and have the mindset ‘I’m doing this because I want to give back to the community and younger people in this field.’ You’re not going to succeed with the idea ‘I love the title and I can just come in and not do much.’”
Leading a quality organization is not without its challenges, whether it is leading an ASQ division, a training program, or a department. While leaders do face new challenges in today’s increasingly connected world, some challenges are ongoing.
“One of the biggest challenges is really getting the company management to buy into the whole quality culture,” Prasad says. “A lot of times companies feel like quality is something we don’t need to focus too much time and money on. Let’s focus more on getting the product out.”
Of course, he says this is mostly in non-regulated industries. Regulated industries, on the other hand, have quality mandates and make it a priority. “If you’re in those industries, the company makes sure you have the funds to meet those requirements.”
It is important to bring management around to the cause. For those with management that needs to be won over, the key is “convincing management that quality needs to be built in to all of your processes; it’s not going to happen without management,” Prasad says.
If you’re looking to change minds, consider this. “The right way to approach it is, what does quality get you? If you improve quality, the cost of your product goes down. It’s not something that may happen in the short term. The compelling argument is why quality would improve your bottom line, defects, costs.”
As a first step, Prasad suggests going to management with a small project as a pilot program. By looking at one category of the business, the company won’t be risking too much. Once they can prove it works in this capacity, it can be expanded.
Interest in quality is only continuing to grow, Prasad says, especially in industries where it may not have been as common, such as software. “People are realizing that if we invest the time in quality we can really get a leg up on our competitors. I think there is an increased awareness,” Prasad says.
“Quality has always been something that the manufacturing industry knew about and knew why it was needed. Not always software.” But today that is changing, Prasad says, and even in the software field, “I see that quality is being talked about, and there’s more awareness.”
Lead the Way
If you’re looking to develop leadership skills, ASQ offers a variety of courses on the subject. ASQ’s Emerging Quality Leaders Program is one component of the broader ASQ Leadership Academy.
“Leadership skills are the same no matter which area you are in,” Prasad says. He cites good communication skills and the ability to mentor, emphasize and collaborate.
While certain skills are specific to quality, these are becoming harder to find in the workforce, Prasad says, especially automation.
“What I’m seeing is it is very, very hard to find people with these skills and knowledge how to use these automation skills.”
John Jennings, the quality assurance manager for Bowhead Manufacturing Technologies, suggested doing a personal SWOT analysis to look at your strengths and weaknesses and how to improve. Mentors can be helpful in this regard. Planning your career in five-year segments is also a valuable idea, he says. Though his career has taken many turns—during the 1980s, Jennings was laid off twice in the same year—he says networking and professional development saved him.
The Road to Leadership
Prasad’s involvement with the ASQ section began in early 2000. He was looking for a credential certification as a software quality engineer. ASQ stood out as a recognized name. He took a TSQE certification prep course, conducted by the Long Island chapter, then became certified and then involved with the chapter. He then built their website, since they didn’t have one at the time. Several years later he began his first term as the section chair.
For those looking to get involved in leadership, he recommended the ASQ leadership training and also becoming involved in the organization.
For the would-be section chairs out there, Prasad offers this advice. “You have to be able to listen. When you’re a leader, you have to be very good at listening to what people are saying, and have the ability to stay focused.”
For example, if you’re working on putting together an event, you should also be responsible for the outcome, Prasad says. No matter what tasks you’ve done for the project, only the overall results are important. “You have to be able to deliver, at the end of the day. Listen to what members want, then deliver.” Q