Optimum Leadership or Leadership Malpractice–It’s Your Choice


Optimum Leadership uses the scientific method to evaluate the process and identify solutions. Leadership Malpractice blames people for problems and stops listening. Optimum Leadership enrolls the entire team to review data and experiment with new ideas to find solutions to complex problems. Leadership Malpractice[1] seeks to evaluate people when results are poor.

In 1847 Hungarian-born physician Ignaz Semmelweis, while working at an obstetrics unit in Vienna was astonished and concerned with the frequency of child fatalities that occurred after birth assisted by medical students. The rate of child death was 10-20 times higher than those that occurred with births assisted by midwives.

Semmelweis’ concern motivated him to do a meticulous examination of the clinical processes. He discovered that the medical students who assisted in childbirth often did so after performing autopsies on patients who had died from bacterial infections. The medical students were unknowingly passing on the bacterial infections to the mothers and the children. Semmelweis instituted a strict policy of hand-washing with a chlorinated antiseptic solution and the mortality rates dropped by 10- to 20-fold within 3 months.

Semmelweis used a problem-solving process that exemplifies Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge Theory. Semmelweis had a theory. He collected data to test the theory. He made a change to the processes. He generated significant improvement. He didn’t blame people. He didn’t try to control people. He didn’t threaten, evaluate, or criticize people. He used a sound scientific problem solving method.

This is exemplary of a Deming (optimum) leader. Deming wanted management to work on improving the system and to optimize it over-time. He wanted managers to provide joy and pride for employees while they continuously add value to customers. He wanted managers to question the prevailing theory which usually focuses on who is to blame. Deming wanted management to be able to predict. Deming created his System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK) to help managers to accomplish all of this.

Deming believed that management needed a transformation and that first step in that transformation was the transformation of the individual. (Deming, The New Economics – Second Edition, 1994) He explained how a manager who understands the key elements of SoPK could then apply those same principles to achieve significant positive results just as Semmelweis did.

Are you collecting data? Are you using the scientific method? Are you clarifying process? Are you giving people the chance to experiment with their new ideas to achieve the outcomes you seek? This sounds simple but it is not easy.

If you are not doing these things consistently then are you committing leadership malpractice? Are you blaming others? Are you failing to use systems thinking[2]? Are you and your people unprepared or lack the tools to study processes? It’s time for a personal transformation. You can do it!

[1] Malpractice: A failure of a professional that causes injury to others through ignorance, negligence or through criminal intent.

[2] Systems Thinking: The discipline to study and improve the interactions between the parts of an organization for the purpose of achieving higher results while avoiding the analysis of the individual parts.

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