Much is made of the importance of leadership, and I don’t disagree. However, what’s often overlooked is the importance of system conditions. Deming talked about this when he pointed out most troubles and possibilities for improvement come from the system. Think about it like this…
Imagine yourself as the world’s most inspirational leader. Here you are (in stick person form), trying to carry out your task of standing these skittles upright.
Unfortunately, they keep tipping over. This is nothing to do with your leadership ability, but simply because the floor surface is slightly convex. No matter how hard you try, they tip over and you spend your time flitting between them, rebalancing them one-by-one as they fall. The uneven floor is a system problem folks – and Deming says management have the responsibility of addressing system problems. Leadership is not enough.
Here’s another example. You’re the captain of a ship. Sadly, the ship they put you in charge of has big holes in the hull which keep letting in water. You spend all your time and energy bailing out the water. Your crew work hard for you and you do your best to lead them, but you have no means of repairing the holes. Another system problem. Leadership is not enough.
Last one. This plant wants to reach its full potential, but its roots are restricted by the plant pot, which it has outgrown. You’re expected to tend to it but aren’t allowed to re-pot it. Frustrating huh? Well, that’s another system condition no amount of your outstanding leadership can fix. Your management have the responsibility of improving the system conditions (i.e. providing you with a bigger plant pot) so that you can demonstrate what a great gardener you are. Leadership is not enough.
Of course, this applies at every level and goes all the way to the top. You can lead within the parameters set for you; those further up the food chain can do the same. But until dysfunctional system conditions are addressed by those at the top of the pile:
Leadership is not enough.