The Faces of Six Sigma

The Rise of Quality

The Corporate Days

The Essence of Leadership

Leading Six Sigma

More than any other, the idea of leadership provides the energy and impetus required to set the body of a corporation on a new performance trajectory. A company with strong leadership and little knowledge of Six Sigma is better off than a company with enormous Six Sigma knowledge and weak leaders. Yes, you read correctly. It is better to have a critical mass of strong leaders than to have Six Sigma. But a corporation is best off when the two converge. Bob Galvin in his book, The Idea of Ideas, provides us with more depth of understanding about leadership. Here's what he has to say:

Because a leader is human and fallible, his and her leadership is in one sense finite -constrained by mortality and human imperfections. In another sense the leader's influence is almost limitless. He and she can spread hope, lend courage, kindle confidence, impart knowledge, give heart, instill spirit, elevate standards, display vision, set direction, and call for action today and each tomorrow. The frequency with which one can perform these leadership functions seems without measure. His or her effectiveness and personal resources, rather than attenuating with use, amplify and he and she reuse and extend the skills. Like a tree whose shadow falls where the tree is not, the consequence of the leader's act radiates beyond the fondest perception. Again we see the paradox of the leader - a finite person with an apparent infinite influence.

Galvin's words set a tone for those who would be chosen, or who would choose, to lead Six Sigma in a large corporation. He begins to define the Six Sigma deployment CTQ (critical to quality characteristic) we call leadership. And he articulates the essence and idea of leadership in a way that can greatly benefit all who would lead either by will or by appointment. He therefore continues by saying:

A leader is decisive, is called on to make many critical choices, and then thrive on the power and the attention of that decision-making role. Yet the leader of leaders moves progressively away from that role. Yes, he or she can be decisive and command as required. Yet that leader's prime responsibility is not to decide or direct but to create and maintain an evocative situation, stimulating an atmosphere of objective participation, keeping the goal in sight, recognizing valid consensus, inviting unequivocal recommendation and finally vesting increasingly in others the privilege to learn through their own decisions. A wiser man put it thus: "We measure the effectiveness of the true leader not in terms of the leadership he exercises but in terms of the leadership he evokes; not in terms of his power over others, but in terms of the power he releases in others; not in terms of the goals he sets and the directions he gives but in terms of the plans of action others work out for themselves with his help; not in terms of decisions made, events completed and the inevitable success and growth that follow from such released energy but in terms of growth in competence, sense of responsibility and in personal satisfaction among many participants. Under this kind of leadership it may not always be clear at any given moment just who is leading. Nor is this important. What is important is that others are learning to lead well. " The compliment to that paradox is that the growth that such leadership stimulates generates an ever-growing institution and an ever-increasing number of critical choices, more than enough of which fall squarely back on the shoulders of the leader who trained and willingly shared decision making with others.

With that bit of discourse we get a little more from Galvin about what it means to be a leader. We get some principles, such as the one that says effective leadership is not a function of controlling others but of preparing and empowering others to lead. True leadership is selfless, yet, paradoxically, it fulfills a deep personal need. On this note, we will quote the last bit of wisdom from Galvin's book:

And there are others which, if not paradoxes, at least are incongruities. Have we not witnessed some who have claimed leadership yet never fully achieved it? Have we not observed others who have shunned leadership only to have it thrust upon them?

Each of us is at once part leader and part follower as we play our roles in life. Fortunately there is a spark of leadership quality in many men and women, and most fortunately the flame of future leadership burns brightly in many. It is this wellspring from which we will draw and which gives us confidence for the continued advance of society. Walter Lippmann once observed: "The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind in other men the conviction and will to carry on. "

Six Sigma is more about leadership than it is about knowledge, structures, systems, methods and tools - even though these are the critical subjects of Six Sigma when we talk about it from a mechanistic, installation and project application point of view. In terms of driving its effective deployment and implementation - creating hope and turning hope into tangible realization — this is the realm of leadership, which is more organic and free-form than it is mechanistic and planned.

Some claim that Six Sigma is no more than smoke and mirrors - a sales job for senior management and a snow job for the rest. Well they couldn't be more on target. How else can you get an initiative moving when, at first, there is no initial momentum or substance behind it? Six Sigma is about intensive training, technical knowledge, personal transformation and application leadership. Before a corporation has all these, it has nothing -just the same old beliefs and practices that have made it what it's always been.

The Way of the Magician

That's when a senior Champion has to strike with his or her magic act. First impressions are everything. Knowing it takes a little bit of time to generate results, you have to position Six Sigma in a very positive light from the beginning. You are asking people to jump on board with a leap of faith. In the beginning, you are selling an idea that has no form or substance. All you have is smoke and mirrors, and a little bit of magic. You're out in the wilderness without a map or a compass or supplies. And there's more than a few angry bears who'd like to have you for lunch.

That's pretty much the scenario for the one who leads a company to greatness, as far as Six Sigma is concerned. So you get out your smoke and mirrors, say, the case studies of Six Sigma success in other companies. You have to rely on testimonials from others who have "been there and done that" because you don't have any of your own. Your job is to give rise to the idea of Six Sigma, then keep it alive until it proves tangible results and becomes largely self-sustaining. You throw on your magician's cape, set off a few smoke bombs and create an image of Six Sigma for all to see. Within a few months, when top management sees the returns in cold hard cash, guess what happens? People can't get enough of it, they want more and Six Sigma becomes self-infecting.

There are three main pieces of magic in the act we call Six Sigma. The first is to create the need for Six Sigma and redirect a business onto the path of breakthrough. Only senior leadership can do this. The next piece of magic is to select a powerful and highly credible leader who can fill the role of senior Champion. Someone with integrity, audacity, hardness, intelligence and drive. Someone who takes the idea of business quality so personally that he or she would die before the job's not done. The final piece of magic is to put the power of decision-making and the control of resources into the hands of that leader.

After this, in sewing-machine fashion, the global leader (senior Champion) designs the course of Six Sigma development, then embeds various Six Sigma enablers into all three levels of the corporation: business, operations and process. At the same time, the global leader provides key people with the knowledge they need to leverage those enablers through the guided purpose of application projects, each connected to larger business goals and objectives.

Local leaders, on the other hand, focus on the core processes that drive a business. They guide the implementation of Six Sigma and ensure the application of statistics in a new way that exploits new opportunities at the process level, aggregates gains made at the operations level and reports performance in a more meaningful form at the business level.

This is what Six Sigma is about. It's not just about enablers, methods and tools - the "what's" and even the "how's" of Six Sigma. At this point in time, most progressive corporations have acquired a good working knowledge of these. What most haven't acquired and internalized is the idea of Six Sigma leadership. The difference between a smashing success and a failure does not revolve around statistical tools, or software, or various methods like QFD. It revolves around the magic of changing people's hearts and leading the collective soul of a corporation to the land of breakthrough in a highly visible and accountable way.

If you are a Six Sigma Champion, you better have some smoke and mirrors. You better know how to manipulate the smoke of ambiguity - clear it away, for example, from clouding the true picture of how well your company is performing. The smoke also hides the details of where improvement lies, so you have to clear it from the deep dark corners. At the same time, you have to use mirrors to reflect light into those comers, because you want to expose problems that have thrived in the darkness for too long.

Smoke can also be used to cover areas you want to hide from view - like the old ways of conducting business. You can make these go away and disappear from view. The senior Champion is a strategic and tactical smoke manager. That means she's a leader, and she will manage the smoke in any way necessary to create the vision that is needed for breakthrough change. Moving the smoke around in the proper quantities where and when it is needed, hiding counterproductive values, exposing uncomfortable facts - this is the job of the breakthrough magician.

Mirrors are used to reflect improvement, and lessons learned. They reflect our values and our habits. They show us who we are in such neurotic detail that all we can think about is how to improve ourselves and our business. Only with mirrors can you reflect the values and behaviors you will reinforce in the organization. Only with mirrors can you keep those images bright and alive. Management habits will change, operational habits will change and process habits will change. In this sense, a leader reconfigures the operating environment of a business.

So if anyone says Six Sigma is about smoke and mirrors, Dr. Harry agrees. He agrees that Jack Germaine at Motorola was a smoke and mirrors artist, as was Gary Reiner at GE. He agrees that Rich Schroeder at AlliedSignal was a magician too.

The Nature of a Champion

Don Linsenmann of DuPont is a magician too, albeit one of a different kind. He has a very strong technical background, and so he picks up very well on those aspects of Six Sigma. Linsenmann also has a very strong business leadership base as a senior executive, and he understands people and how they tick. He understands the inner workings of DuPont and has an uncanny ability to connect the equations of Six Sigma with real products made by real people in real places — all the way down to the customer's smile.

With his x-ray vision, Linsenmann has the ability to see all the threads that make the pattern. He knows how the shirt is made, how the sleeve is attached, how the pocket is formed, how the buttons are sewn on. When it comes to DuPont, Linsenmann sees the relationships, and how the whole hangs together. This is what gives him his power as a leader - as it gave power to Germaine at Motorla, Magnusson at ABB, Schroeder at AlliedSignal and Reiner at GE.

Linsenmann has zeal to the point at which Six Sigma is a deeply held belief, not just a professional obligation. You should have seen him when the first results from Black Belts started rolling in. My god, he was no longer two pieces of metal welded together but one single, homogeneously blended piece. He was no longer Don the business man and Don the Six Sigma man. He was Don the leader.

That's what happens to all great Six Sigma Champions. That's what happens to those who master the magic, move the mirrors, distribute the smoke and guide the path of a corporation. They are communicators. They make the unbelievable become believable and rational. They are con men, master mechanics, part psychologists and big-time politicians. They know when to throw a spear and when to hand out an olive branch. They know which battles to pick first, and which ones to avoid altogether, and they learn to move mountains.

Always, the focus of a leader is on winning the war, not necessarily all of the battles. A leader is strategically minded, tactically adept and tool sensitive. The best leaders understand the connection between strategies, tactics and tools, and they know they can't create their interaction alone. So they surround themselves with people who are as strong or stronger than they are. In this manner, a senior Champion builds a house, not from deadwood washed up on the corporate beach, but from the strongest trees in the forest. They admire risk-takers and loath moss-backed generals.

If this is the case, and it is, then a CEO better start at the top by selecting the strongest possible executive to fill the role of senior Champion. He better find himself a fast-tracker - one of the birds that doesn't fly with the flock - a bird of a different feather. When he finds this person, he should say: "Here you go, you have a shot at the golden corporate ring. If you succeed you will have it. But if you fail, you will be ostracized and doomed to the prison of career stagnation."

Come all ye who are called, but step forth recognizing you have all to gain and all to lose. Your number one job priority is to keep the idea of Six Sigma alive. That's one piece of advice Dr. Harry remembers from Bob Galvin. Keep the idea alive. Do not let it die. That's the precept guiding the heart of a Champion as she spreads the word about Six Sigma, plants its seeds, waters them, harvests the results and runs through the cycle again and again.

Champions are fundamental guiding lights. They sell Six Sigma, make it credible, spread it, foster it, validate it, grow it and basically do what is necessary to install change where change isn't wanted. In other words, a Champion works against a stacked deck. That's why TQM failed. Its leaders weren't strong enough, and they weren't given the resources to create the infrastructure and thrust required for business breakthrough. Its leaders were often weak and cowed down to the demands of those above them, even though they had been charged with the task of changing organizational values.

The easiest part of the smoke-and-mirrors magic act is to recognize the need for Six Sigma. The hardest part is selecting your very best people to lead Six Sigma, and empowering those people with resources. That's making a commitment, and that's making an investment. When a CEO respects the power of Six Sigma in this manner, he biases its outcome to be more dependent on people than on methods and systems - although the latter are also supremely essential.

The Marks of a Six Sigma Leader

Leadership is like quality in that it's outcome is binary: it is either successful or not. Yet

leadership is not like quality in that it's more an art than a science. Leaders simply deliver the results at the end of the day when they are due. How they get those results is an non-decomposable confluence of drive, intelligence, bravery, craftiness and about 50 more nouns. If someone finds a way to validly and reliably quantify the mystery of leadership, we will certainly want to know. Until then, we will operate on the assumption that great leadership is like great sex: while there are some formulaic aspects, it is largely a function of many converging non-quantifiable nuances.

What was it, for instance, that stirred within Dr. Harry to have him bring Dr. Thomas Cheek into a Motorola technology meeting? Cheek was an engineer for Texas Instruments, one of Motorola's fierce competitors. The situation was one in which Motorola initially rejected a new technology developed by Dr. Harry. But when they saw Dr. Cheek's success with it, they believed, thereby reinforcing the adage that an expert is always at least 500 miles away.

Was Dr. Harry allowed to bring in an outsider? Weren't there corporate policies about giving technology away to competitors? You bet there were, but Dr. Harry the leader was left with no choice. He knew his technology could greatly benefit his company, whether his colleagues realized it or not. His company was stonewalling his invention. He, therefore, had to do something drastic to break through the resistance and, ultimately, benefit his company.

Dr. Harry knew what he did was a blatant violation of corporate policy. But he also knew his organization needed him more than he needed it. Get that. He knew his organization needed him more than he needed it. If he got fired, so be it. He did what had to be done to force a better way. If that cost him his job, he could put that on his resume as a warning sign for a future employer: Beware, Dr. Harry is a leader.

Ideally, a leader can exist in relative harmony with his or her company. But to do so, there must be commitment on both ends. You have to be willing to do anything for your company and, at the same time, your company has to be willing to do anything for you. At most times and in most places, Dr. Harry and Motorola had this kind of relationship. Yes, Dr. Harry developed some enemies along the way, but he also developed some powerful allies. In the end, he kept the idea of Six Sigma alive as Bob Galvin had tasked him to do.

The bottom line for Dr. Harry was that he deeply believed in Six Sigma, and in his ability to lead Six Sigma change. Time and time again, he was ready to pack his bags and move on. He told his wife once that one of two things would happen in his career. He would either be accelerated to the top, or he would be standing in the food line - and he meant it. But either way, he would always hold in his heart the belief that Six Sigma is the right thing to do.

Oscillating around in the middle was simply not an option. It's a binary choice for Six Sigma leaders: extreme success or extreme failure, but no in between. When you are a Six Sigma Champion, you purposefully and circumstantially design a course of action that will either propel you to the top or sink you to the bottom. Dr. Harry's feeling, and the feeling of all change agents, is that success is OK and failure is OK. It's mediocrity and complacency they fear, not success or failure.

The Ones You Hate to Love

After Dr. Harry was with Motorola for six months, he was present once with his boss, Dick White, and a customer. White was the quality department manager in the Communications Division of Motorola's Government Electronics Group (GEG). The customer expressed his high-level of satisfaction with some work Dr. Harry did, and also expressed his opinion that Dr. Harry was "quite some character." He asked White, "How do you manage that guy?" White said, "The best way to manage Harry is to not manage him."

White put his finger on the precept that you can't manage leaders. You just give them their goals, empower them with resources, support them and get out of their way. They will blend their work with the goals of the larger organization on their own, and they will get the job done.

What a powerful statement White made when he said the best way to manage leaders is to not manage them. This is tough, however, for many executives who are control freaks, and controllers are more common than ones that empower others. Most executives have egos the size of Mt. Everest, and they are often more devoted to control than they are to success. In other words, their allegiance is to the monument of absolute control, not to the installation of leaders who absolutely cannot be controlled.

When Dr. Harry was tasked by Bob Galvin to start the Six Sigma Research Institute, he was promoted to Senior Member of Technical Staff, and he relocated to Motorola's corporate headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois. Just before this, his boss was a guy named Ralph Ponce de Leon, the VP of operations for GEG. But even before this, while working for White, Dr. Harry was direct-lining with Ponce de Leon, who was Dr. Harry's first mentor. Ponce de Leon had taken Dr. Harry under his wing because he viewed him as a tool for helping him leverage his career goals and the business aims of GEG.

When Dr. Harry started in his new job as member of technical staff, he was located on the third floor of GEG headquarters, or "walnut row," with all the big executives. It was there that Ponce de Leon put Dr. Harry together with a guy named Randy Jameson a former NATO commander in the U.S. Air Force. Jameson was a master politician and director of quality for GEG. The objective between Ponce de Leon and Jameson was to polish the diamond that was Dr. Harry - smooth his rough edges, polish the surface and teach him the "political way."

Dr. Harry credits Ponce de Leon for his success at GEG, as well as at Motorola corporate. In Dr. Harry's mind, Ponce de Leon was the model business executive and exemplar. He was a very strong and charismatic leader in every sense of the word, a leader of leaders who taught Dr. Harry the meaning of mutual, symbiotic career advancement. Dr. Harry helped him, and he helped Dr. Harry. Dr. Harry helped Galvin, and Galvin helped him. Rarely is there a leader who can effectuate change without such mutually beneficial relationships in the corridors of power.

Nevertheless, it was Ponce de Leon who once said to Dr. Harry, "On any given day, we don't know whether to fire you or promote you." Dr. Harry had done something to ruffle his feathers and push the envelope of his job description, even though he really didn't have one.

It's statements like Ponce de Leon's that begin to form the image of a leader, recognizing again that we can't paint a perfect picture because all leaders are different. They are not like processes that can be quantified, controlled and replicated. Perhaps, too, Ponce de Leon's comment opens a window of understanding into how we can recognize great leaders: don't examine them as much as you examine the reaction of others to them. Usually, it's the types you hate to love or love to hate that are the leaders of quantum change. A leader's actions do not create neutral sentiments.