Some recent conversations with BBs and MBBs from other companies has given me pause regarding the leadership issue as it relates to Six Sigma. The frustration I hear from others, which I’ve also experienced, relates to the lack of continuity between word and deed. Not that it’s necessarily intentional, I mean surely executives don’t intend to fail when it comes to leading an initiative. But if that’s not the case, why do so many BB’s encounter scenarios where the leader speaks the gospel of Six Sigma but does little else.

Well, as you may have guessed, I have a theory. Benjamin Franklin once asked, “Who had deceived thee so often as thyself?” This, in my opinion, cuts to the heart of the issue. Leaders, and people in general for that matter, don’t know what they don’t know. One can’t be expected to be an expert at everything thus it seems logical that one would seek training and/or consultation from experts before embarking on a mission with a massive scale like Six Sigma. This, however, isn’t always the case. The “I read a book therefore I am” syndrome often takes over and the leader, who now knows the lingo, is convinced he or she can get the job done merely by saying “we’re going to do Six Sigma.” Lewis & Clark didn’t set out on their journey based solely on their own expertise. They knew they needed quartermasters, trappers, guides, translators, etc. They had a plan based on multiple sources of expertise and they worked the plan. Their journey, not unlike the Six Sigma journey, wasn’t easy, but theywere true to the mission and theywere keenly aware of their limitations. Knowing the lingo and that others have seen huge returns from Six Sigma is not a plan.

Along the same lines, I often wonder if someexecutives fancy the idea of implementing Six Sigma because they know they need change and they’ve read the hype and figure they can hire an expert and it will just happen. This too is a dangerous approach which will quite likely do more harm to an organization than good. I’m not suggesting the leader has to be a technical Six Sigma expert, however, he or she must have a strong conceptual understanding of the methodology and must be willing to steer the organization in a totally new direction. Six Sigma won’t mesh well with traditional management practices. In a traditional environment, it will produce some minor project gains but will eventually fade as those in supervisory positions realize they don’t really have to do it. People have a way of figuring out what the leader wants to hear and if the leader doesn’t have a strong understanding of what is and what is not Six Sigma, he or she will fall victim to these subordinates.

The moral of the story is summed up in the words of one of my favorite actors, Clint Eastwood. “A man has got to know his limitations.” A good leader know’s what he does and doesn’t know. Most know they need a solid plan, and the good one’s know when and where to seek advice on the development of the plan.

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