Get a used copy of this book and read it cover to cover: https://www.amazon.com/Leaders-Handbook-Making-Things-Gettin...
Chapter 2: The New Leadership Competencies:
- Competency 1: The Ability to Think in Terms of Systems and Knowing How to Lead Systems
- Competency 2: The Ability to Understand the Variability of Work in Planning and Problem Solving
- Competency 3. Understanding How We Learn, Develop, and Improve; Leading True Learning and Improvement
- Competency 4. Understanding People and Why They Behave as They Do
Those sound a tad more concrete and believable, don't they? That's an understanding of reality that might help you be a better leader to an organization that actually works. Dismiss the surface-level personality games and get yourself into the scientific reality of organizations, and you have a hope of leading one well. There are no missing parts—the whole system is important. That's the leadership secret.
My bet is that the leaders described in this post are better described by the above characteristics, and they more reliably predict leadership success, than any of their individual traits or abilities. Certainly Ed Catmull, who was himself a big believer in Deming's way of managing companies, fits that model, and Steve Jobs was heavily influenced by Deming and Juran in creating a system able to produce extraordinary quality. In fact, the whole Pixar team this post is about was more heavily influenced by Deming's concepts than any trite personality fluke, yet that influence is entirely ignored here.
This is forgivable: it's attribution bias. We instinctually want to attribute to the greatness of the individual that which was actually more nuanced, the outside factor in this case being a great body of knowledge about management and leadership that led them to be extraordinary.
Now you know. Read Peter Scholtes' Leader's Handbook, read Creativity Inc., and keep thinking about it. There's way more to it than just having integrity, being able to judge people, and being a smart thinker. If excelling at those were all it took, we'd be up to our necks in extraordinary leaders. Must be something else, then.
Donella Meadows is one of the most articulate writers and thinkers on systems. She is the easiest to learn the basics from: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1603580557
Same person, shorter, free, and condensed format: http://www.donellameadows.org/systems-thinking-resources/
Same author again, the final chapter from the book above: http://www.donellameadows.org/archives/dancing-with-systems/
And if you only get one book on how to apply it to business, it's this one: http://www.amazon.com/Leaders-Handbook-Making-Things-Getting...
A more recent applied-systems-thinking manual for organizations that I've found hits home with more traditional managers (very useful): http://www.amazon.com/The-High-Velocity-Edge-Operational-Com...
Another good one that's a bit long-winded, but another set of applied examples: http://www.amazon.com/The-Fifth-Discipline-Practice-Organiza...
Senge, in the foreward of that book, gives almost all credit to W. Edwards Deming—who is the originator of many of the ideas of organizational systems thinking and how it integrates with Management. So, if you want to go deeper, Deming's book "Out of the Crisis" is a good tome.
And I'm not saying it's easy. Not at all. It might be the hardest problem in all of business—combining the true systems of work into a cohesive philosophy: systems, statistics, people, and knowledge. I'm just saying (and I'm just repeating the words of some great thinkers in the quality space, mind you) that if we change the way we think about quality and companies in general, we'll get a lot of gigantic unrealized gains in productivity.
This happens naturally in many companies in small pockets, but human nature and psychology tends to break it down eventually.
If I'm wrong, then a great many other people are also wrong, primarily W. Edwards Deming, who, as I noted, single-handedly turned around the entire economy of Japan using these exact methods and ideas.
Here's a great place to start: http://www.amazon.com/Leaders-Handbook-Making-Things-Getting...
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