Redefining What It Means to Be a Quality Leader


By Eric Stoop
June 12, 2020

Redefining What It Means to Be a Quality Leader

What makes someone a quality leader and not just a manager? According to experts at Harvard Business School, the difference between leading versus managing comes down to a few key strategies.

Professor Nancy Koehn defines leadership as “the creation of positive, non-incremental change, including the creation of a vision to guide that change—a strategy—the empowerment of people to make the vision happen despite obstacles, and the creation of a coalition of energy and momentum that can move that change forward.”

In other words, leadership requires more than just managing people and getting them to hit a set of targets. It means being able to inspire people to drive change on a larger level, helping overcome challenges along the way.

In this post, we look at what it means to be a quality leader, including three critical steps to becoming a leader that people are excited to follow.

Quality Leaders Communicate the Vision

The defining characteristic of quality leaders is that they develop and communicate a vision for quality—and then back it up with action. This includes:

  • Helping people understand their role in achieving the vision
  • Challenging the status quo
  • Not being afraid to ask why and dig deeper for answers
  • Being willing to try new strategies and technologies, something especially important in the context of Industry 4.0 advances

True leaders must also embody a culture of quality by taking details seriously and following up on problems. People won’t buy into your vision unless they see an authentic commitment to quality on your part. Are you a living example of what you expect from your team?

Quality Leaders Encourage Ideas

Manufacturing organizations today, particularly large ones, require team members to go through multiple levels of approvals when they have ideas for continuous improvement.

The defining characteristic of a leader is to inspire others to action, meaning you actually have to make it possible for people to take action. When someone has a good idea, they shouldn’t have to go through 50 levels of approvals to get it done. That’s how you teach people not to raise their hand with ideas, since they know from the outset the idea will ultimately be quashed.

Embracing quality means allocating resources for new ideas, giving teams free rein for projects up to a certain dollar amount. It’s also critical to celebrate people when they step up with contributing ideas.

Layered process audits (LPAs) are another way to empower people to share ideas. Done correctly, these high-frequency audits uncover process failures behind production defects, also creating daily opportunities for communication and feedback between leaders and front-line operators. These discussions can lead to valuable process improvements and help foster a culture of quality.

Every one of your employees should know exactly where to go when they have a good idea. Only if they do can you truthfully say your company prioritizes quality.

Quality Leaders Are a Visible Presence

Traditionally, quality was a function that happened mostly in an office. And it only makes sense, when you consider that pre-digital quality management tools require massive amounts of paperwork and spreadsheets, data entry and number-crunching.

But the most effective leaders—the ones whose team members are most loyal and energized—are those who are actively engaged in the work being done. It’s true whether we’re talking about a restaurant owner who hops on the cook line when things get busy, or a quality manager who makes the time to be a visible presence on the shop floor.

Even though a quality manager may not jump on the manufacturing line, it’s important to see the everyday implications of what you’re asking of your workers. The key is being the front lines, having conversations and verifying that things are done right—both of which are essential to building a culture of quality.

Quality Leaders Ensure Accountability

Leaders are responsible for ensuring accountability, but not always in the ways people think. It’s not just monitoring progress, following up on problems, tracking and sharing results.

A true leader goes further than executing the plan. It’s about holding the plan and the team accountable to the strategic vision. Where are emerging trends or risks? Where are the weak spots and obstacles? These questions are all important ones leaders must address from a high-level standpoint, an area where LPAs can provide key data.

Accountability is also key to LPA programs, where low audit completion rates are common problem. In these situations, leaders must uncover why people miss their audits and implement solutions to address problems. An automated LPA platform can help, with notifications so people can’t ignore their responsibilities as well as big picture data into process risks.

The defining characteristic of a leader is that they guide other people through change towards a larger vision. For quality leaders today, that means stepping beyond the roles of administering existing processes to developing new strategies, focusing not just on systems but also on the people behind them.

Being a living example of a culture of quality is a fundamental part of this equation, walking the talk so that team members have a leader they can believe in. 

Eric Stoop
Eric Stoop