Great leaders inspire people to do great things. They can comfort during times of difficulty and strife, calm a country during conflicts, and bring out the best in their staff.

Think of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and the best boss you’ve ever had. The leadership styles may vary—consider how Oprah operates vs. the infamous style of Steve Jobs—but the goals are the same. Whether you’re the secretary-general of the United Nations, the CEO of a multinational company, or the quality manager at a mom-and-pop shop, the ideas are the same. Inspiring people, empowering them, and working to achieve the organization’s goals together.

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Getting leadership support is a crucial step to any project, as studies—and most likely, your own personal experience—have shown. It’s hard to make progress if the boss doesn’t approve of the project.

If you are not a leader or manager yourself, it may seem that you will just play a supporting role at the organization. But that is not quite correct.

As ASQ says, “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. Promoting employee involvement in leadership is an effective way to help build up a company’s success and morale.”

Standards worldwide underline the importance of this principle.

ISO is no stranger to quality management principles, and leadership is one of the top ones. According to ISO, “Leaders at all levels establish unity of purpose and direction and create conditions in which people are engaged in achieving the organization’s quality objectives.”

One of those conditions is empowerment. In an article from the Journal of Quality Management, Isaiah O. Ugboro and Kofi Obeng studied the relationship between leadership and employee empowerment. What they found may not surprise you, but it is a good reminder of how an organization should work. They write, “The results reveal positive correlation between top management leadership, employee empowerment, job satisfaction, and customer satisfaction. Employee empowerment and improved levels of job satisfaction are facilitated by top management leadership and commitment to the TQM goal of customer satisfaction by creating an organizational climate that emphasizes total quality and customer satisfaction.”

“The findings also suggest a strong and active role for top management in creating an organizational culture that promotes total quality. These top management roles should include initiating and maintaining a total quality culture by being actively involved in reviewing progress of critical quality programs; making available sufficient resources to implement total quality initiatives; and devising credible reward systems that recognize employees’ and managers’ contributions to total quality objectives throughout the organization.”

Inspire and Achieve

It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about a leader than is so inspiring. Rather, it’s just clear that something about them draws others to them. While inspiring people is easier said than done, some characteristics are proven to help, such as sincere enthusiasm, integrity, loyalty and charisma. Leading by example is a strong way to succeed. Modelling the qualities you want to see in others, whether it be good communication skills, can empower a team to succeed.

No doubt you’ve met inspiring figures in your life. Whether it’s a teacher, a coach or a family member, leaders come in many forms. Perhaps you’ve taken on a leadership role yourself. Quality requires a strong backbone to stand up for the best possible product quality. In terms of manufacturing, it also takes strong leadership to stand up for quality. Often it may seem easier to just let product ship rather than cause delays. But this is not the way for a company to get ahead.

Alison Jenkins of McKinsey also provided several ideas on how to lead—and how not to. Rather than providing the right answers, leaders should ask the right questions. They should not look for immediate fixes, but dig deeper for root causes. And finally, they should not set general goals that apply to everyone. Instead, they should connect the company’s goals to each individuals’ work.

We know good leadership is important. But how to go about achieving these goals? Again, ISO might be a good place to start. ISO offers these suggestions:

  • “Communicate the organization’s mission, vision, strategy, policies and processes throughout the organization.
  • Create and sustain shared values, fairness and ethical models for behaviour at all levels of the organization.
  • Establish a culture of trust and integrity.
  • Encourage an organization-wide commitment to quality.
  • Ensure that leaders at all levels are positive examples to people in the organization.
  • Provide people with the required resources, training and authority to act with accountability.
  • Inspire, encourage and recognize people’s contribution.”

Good luck to all of you leading your organization to better quality. It’s not an easy path but it’s the only way to improve processes, products, and culture.