The Doctor Is In

By Pendry, James D. | Military Review, November/December 2000 | Go to article overview

The Doctor Is In


Pendry, James D., Military Review


The aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures in men, but to remove the causes of failure.

-W. Edwards Deming1

For more than 40 years, W. Edwards Deming has had a worldwide consulting practice in quality management and leadership. However, based on the assumption that military leadership only functions in an authoritative or autocratic environment, many military professionals argue that Deming's total-quality philosophy does not fit the military leadership template. This inaccurate notion creates a mental roadblock to a more thorough examination of the total-- quality approach. Careful consideration shows that Deming's sound basic practices are not new to Army leadership and training doctrine.

In the first of his "14 points for management," Deming stresses "constancy of purpose toward continuous improvement." The 1999 version of US Army Field Manual (FM) 22-100, Army Leadership, defines leadership as "influencing people-- by providing purpose, direction and motivation-while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization."2

Deming describes a manager as someone who is an "unceasing learner, coach and counsel, who creates trust, but does not expect perfection."3 The people-manager he describes relies on knowledge, personality and persuasion as sources of power. His description readily ties to the be, know, do framework and counseling principles in FM 22-100.

Field Manual 25-101, Battle-- Focused Training, relies on vision (stated as the commander's training goal), mission and mission-essential tasks to achieve constancy of purpose.4 Battle focus ensures that units continually improve by applying the assessment process in the training-- management cycle and conducting after-action reviews. Constancy of purpose and continuous improvement combine to form the foundation of Army training and leadership doctrine. The fundamental ideas expressed in Army leadership and training doctrine plainly embrace Deming's philosophy. From that starting point, the doctor prescribes success measured in terms of quality.

Leadership is a Process

Deming stresses systems and their supporting processes as being key to quality products. In The New Economics, he states that management's aim is "to achieve the best results for everybody-everybody win [sic]." In this context, the Army is the system and leadership its most important process. The product of the Army's leadership process is a quality soldier who admirably represents the nation and is able to fight, win and survive on the modern battlefield.

According to Deming, when a product fails, evaluating the process used to make the product will uncover the reason for the failure. Therefore, good managers and leaders should evaluate the process before focusing on the people using it. If a trained and fully qualified soldier-the Army's raw material-- enters the leadership process and fails, the failure should be traceable to a flaw in the process. The process produces success or failure. Just as quality products come from the best manufacturing processes, quality soldiers come from the best leadership processes. However, when a soldier fails, the Army's usual first step is to evaluate the soldier-the product.

Examining a substandard product to determine why it failed is not unusual. But, culpability should lie within a leadership process that produces a broken product-a soldier unable to meet a standard. Given the current recruiting and retention pressures, never before in our Army's history has a quality leadership process been more important.

Charting the Process

Deming advised capturing a process on a flow chart, using it to find the flawed steps then fixing them. If there is a product, there should be an explainable leadership process that produced it. Two versions of the leadership process illustrate the point: the Einstein Insanity Version and the Total-Quality Version. …

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