Quality Management and Leadership: Knowledge and Authority

Quality management is not unique in its emphasis on leadership.  J. M. Juran, a major contributor to the quality management movement, titles one of his books, Juran on Leadership for Quality.  W. Edwards Deming also beats the drum for leadership in Out of the Crisis and The New Economics.  On page 116 of the latter, he says leaders (but only the best ones, to be sure!) have magic/alchemic powers; they can–and do!–transform one thing into something else: “the job of a leader is to accomplish transformation of his organization”.

Let’s not forget that it’s quality management. Management.  Management.  Management.  What we need, to paraphrase Juran’s book, is Management for Quality.  An effective way to get what we need, to keep the focus on management, and to get better management is to remember Victor Thompson’s insight and follow his advice; both stated in the Preface of Modern Organization: “The book’s major theme is the clash between authority on the one hand, and growing information and knowledge on the other.  This clash has resulted in a central and persistent dilemma for modern management–the right to command versus the knowledge to do wisely. . . . Some people approach the problem of bringing knowledge and authority together by falling back on childhood phantasies and seeking a father substitute (perhaps now a mother substitute).  They seek an all-knowledgeable and impeccably virtuous [leader] to whom our awe-inspiring array of problems can be turned over.  They urge . . . executive training programs and curricula to turn out executives who have mastered all relevant fields of knowledge–who are `generalists’ rather than specialists.  A little thought will disclose all such proposals to be essentially regressive–a search for a hero or a magic helper.  The problem of authority with knowledge will not be solved thus.  It will be solved, if at all, by hard and careful administrative [management] analysis, thinking, and programing–by devising administrative [management] arrangements and procedures for bringing knowledge to bear on problems and motivating specialized, and hence informed, employees of organizations to participate faithfully in these arrangements and procedures” (pp. vii-ix).

We don’t need leadership and leaders, or another hero (as Tina Turner tuned a few decades after Thompson phrased the same idea).  We need management and managers; knowledgeable people with power; only then will we optimize problem solving.


About georgebeam

George Beam is an educator and author. The perspectives that inform his interpretations of the topics of this blog–-as well as his other writings and university courses -–are system analysis, behaviorism, and Internet effects. Specific interests include quality management, methodology, and politics. He is Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Administration; Affiliated Faculty, Department of Political Science; and, previously, Head, Department of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
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