Dr. Edwards Deming Leadership Style

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 15
Words: 3963
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: PhD

W. Edwards Deming’s leadership style fits well with participative theories on leadership, as the consultant took the feelings and contributions of other people into consideration (Drath 2001). He called for involvement of all members of the company in the decision making process and further recommended removal of boundaries between various departments. Deming encouraged companies to enhance trust among employees and their supervisors as this could increase morale levels, and ultimately increase productivity of workers.

William Edwards Deming is the type of leader who advocated for quality at all stages of production. He emphasized that learning is a continuous process, and therefore the reason as to why training should be instituted on the job. Through learning, the organization could evaluate causes for variations and new methods of increasing productivity of the company. On understanding these causes, managers could establish steps that would minimize the variations instead of blaming employees.

Deming illustrated several traits that were consistent throughout his work. He highlighted the need for management to be adaptable to situations, and change management styles accordingly. Deming could be viewed as an ambitious person, always accepting a challenge. He was very cooperative, accepting various projects from both sides of the Atlantic. Deming also encompasses other traits which make up a successful leader, such as vision. When Deming first started working in Japan, he explained to various top managers that his plans, if followed, would lead to Japan attaining competitive advantages in a five year course. In his book (Deming 2000), he expressed that he was surprised by the fact that Japan had followed his instructions and succeeded in making quality products in just four years.

Relationship theories may also apply to Edward Deming, as he encouraged the use of management by empowerment. Relationship theories state that leaders must continually reassure and appreciate their employees in order to boost their performance. Deming pushed for the removal of the annual exhortations, that is instructions for the employees demanding zero defects and expected levels of output. Such instructions only increased fear within employees and created tensions between employees and their supervisors. Instead, managers should encourage communication between themselves and their employees, as this enhances cooperation. By harnessing the individual power of all employees, a company increases motivational levels in the organization which in turn reduce the chances of shoddy workmanship and poor services.

In behavioral theories, Deming was employee oriented, rather than productivity oriented. Edwards Deming constantly pushed for better treatment of employees and the inclusion of training during the job. Deming also advised managers to get involved with their organizations, and work towards establishing strong relationships by removing the element of fear from the workplace. According to Deming, empowering employees would result to improved productivity, and reduction of waste which would mean increased quality of the company’s products.

The Fiedler contingency theory considers the leadership style as influenced by the interaction between the supervisors and subordinates, and the degree in which the prevailing situation awards control or influence to the supervisor (Fiedler 1967). Fiedler’s least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) assumes that managers should either try to balance their priorities between tasks and people. In organizations, relationships, power and the structure of tasks are the determinants of the style of leadership adopted.

Deming could be said to be a high LPC leader since he emphasized the need to foster relationships between supervisors and employees. High LPC leaders, such as Deming, encourage close and positive interactions that are mutually beneficial, and may even place the needs of the relationship before organizational tasks. Workers are likely to be highly motivated, and experience job satisfaction. Deming used this as a driving force for increasing productivity. However, high LPC leaders may not have the same favorable impact in all organizations. For instance, in an organization with strong leader and an organized task structure, then task oriented leaders will be the most effective.

Deming tried to use a consultative method of leadership, in which he encouraged use of communication through out the organization. In a consultative approach, top management tries to encourage bottom-up information, although critical decisions are still made by management (Likert 1967). Deming instructs management to listen to subordinates, get ideas and find out prevailing problems. This makes employees feel needed, while managers get more involved with their organizations. The approach is increased builds on trust throughout the organization and results into motivation for employees. Fear is also removed from the workplace.

Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership theory assumes that leaders adapt their management style based on how their followers are likely to react and perform according to expectations (Hersey, Blanchard & Johnson 2007). Deming’s leadership style could be considered as S2, based on the theory. S2 leadership style means that the leader uses selling or coaching, using his position to guide and influence to assist workers in quality productivity. The leader here builds on the relationship among members of the organization, while still focusing on intensity of tasks.

Deming assumed that employees had some levels of competence; therefore continuous training could help in improving the maturity of the employees. The idea of selling by Deming comes from the view that he often discouraged the use of performance targets in the workplace. Instead, Deming suggested that managers seek other ways of reaching targets, by listening to employees and using their leadership positions to coach their workers, use of training and education in order to improve on skills which could add on productivity.

Deming, as a leader, believed that the piecemeal payment system resulted into significant inefficiencies from employees (Gabor 1992). He believed that workers disapproved of the system since the targets set were usually high, and feared that they might be raised higher if they were to accomplish them. The piecemeal system could also cause workers to concentrate on getting as much work done in the shortest time possible, so as to increase their pay packages. The disadvantage of this system is that employees may forsake quality of work done for quantity, resulting into inefficiencies in the production system or service process.

Deming also tried to clarify the path that would lead to increased productivity and coordination by attempting to remove barriers inherent in organizations. The path-goal leadership theory describes the methods applied by leaders to encourage and motivate their employees in achieving favorable performance levels (House & Mitchel1974). Deming was a supportive leader, who attempted to consider the needs of the workers. He believed that the most efficient way of boosting performance was through education of employees. Through education, employees could improve on their capabilities and acquire new skills that would to quality productivity.

By creating conducive work environments and removing barriers in the workplace, Deming sought to empower employees and increase their self esteem. Deming encouraged managers to substitute bureaucratic management with leadership. Leadership in this case, as per Deming’s instructions, meant that the leader had to use his position to guide workers, rather than leaving targets and not providing the methodology.

Deming often recommended the transformation of the style of management through a process of acquiring knowledge. Since it would be impossible for a system to evaluate itself, management would have to transform itself as per the perceptions from the external environment. Deming called for the transformation of individuals, so that once transformed, they would attain new views as to their purpose, processes and relationships among people. Once transformed, the individual will be a better leader since he will appreciate the system, understand interactions between people, set an appropriate example, be a keen listener, a good teacher and help in the transformation of the organization as a whole.

Deming was therefore a transformational leader who uses his inspiration to guide towards achievement of the organization’s objectives. The inspiration creates energy that increases motivation levels, as the leader seeks to transform the organization. Deming had clear visions of the long term goals of the organization, and established mechanisms that would ascertain the fulfillment of those objectives. Deming directs that companies should make strategic decisions based on the needs of the customers, as opposed to react to competitive forces. By prioritizing on the customer, management would be in a far better position to add value to customers, thereby achieving a competitive edge over other competitors.

Deming set the 14 principles as a guiding tool for better company performance. Through his charisma, Deming was able to recommend the installation of pride within employees in the workplace. He was able to express the importance of communication and continual education so as to build on cooperation of managers and employees, as well as breaking barriers between the various departments in the organization. The 14 principles were to also assist management through out the transformation process, as management reconsiders its employee policies. Deming in this case lobbied for better treatment of employees in the workplace, so as to enable them make quality products.

Contributions towards company performance

Edwards Deming is famous for his 14 principles that would aid management in the transformation into quality production. Deming was a firm believer of the notion that reduction of waste contributed towards good quality management. Dr. Edwards Deming emphasized the need to control the costs of quality since it would be more expensive to rework on a nonconforming product. As such, management should adopt the new philosophy which marked the dawn of a modern economic age, which was established in Japan. The new philosophy required companies to reduce delay time in the production process and reduction of the numbers of mistakes done by employees. Here, management had to learn its responsibilities and use their leadership to change their organizations for the better. Another requirement was that companies avoid making strategic decisions as a reaction towards competition. Firms that look at their customers create value in their products, create customer loyalty and could use the differentiated value as the basis for premium pricing.

Another key point for Edwards Deming is the creation of constancy of purpose in organizations. In this respect, companies should be mindful of the quality of products and services offered to the society. Companies should focus on long term objectives, rather than using resources to attain short term profitability. Companies that implement this philosophy work towards constant improvement of their products and services, and production processes of the same. In the auto-making industry, companies have seen a shift in the amount of investment made in vehicles that use green technologies. These vehicles may be seen as the future of the industry. The main goal of this ideology is to ensure that the company remains competitive in the long term, and provides jobs in the industry.

Another key contribution from Deming was his advice to production companies to stop their dependence on mass inspection. In the past, manufacturing companies relied on inspections and audits to guarantee quality of their products. Deming had an alternate idea, incorporate quality measures during production, and subsequently display evidence of quality from the manufacturing process and in the purchasing function. By building quality products in the first place, companies could reduce costs of replacements, time taken for a product to reach the market, and increase productivity. Workers should monitor quality of products while they are still in the assembly line so as to meet quality standards. Where all members are geared towards ascertaining quality, then this might lead to better use of equipment, create fewer incidences of faulty products, improve productivity and finally lower production costs.

The fourth principle from Deming insists that companies should refrain from the practice of awarding business tenders to the suppliers that offered the lowest prices. The disadvantage of this practice is that cheap parts do not always translate to a bargain. Parts bought could be of substandard quality, and could therefore compromise the quality of a firm’s end product. Deming explained that companies should try and reduce the number of suppliers they do business with, and work on building relationships. Instead of making supplier decisions based on initial costs of the contract, management could benefit by looking at the lowest total cost. Building relationships with suppliers of quality parts enables the company to negotiate for lower prices in the future, thereby minimizing total costs in the future for quality supplies.

Point number five in Deming’s 14 principles encourages companies to constantly improve their processes for as long as the company existed. Here, companies would have to be proactive in planning and production for manufacturing companies, or in the delivery of services in case of service firms. Business organizations that constantly evaluate their performance levels are in a better position to solve for problems before they become an issue. The resultant of this principle is that companies continually improve their processes, ultimately improving on quality and productivity. Technology companies that invest significantly in R&D experience constant innovation and improvement of their products, translating into enhanced value for the consumers.

The sixth step in Edwards Deming’s principle was that organizations establish training during employment, for both employees and management. This would make employees more effective and efficient, while increasing their productivity. As the environment changes, it’s becomes necessary for the organization to adapt to new technologies and services. It would be expensive for management to conduct a training session periodically because of the time wasted. New skills are required to keep in touch with changes in product and service designs, techniques in production and stakeholder requirements. Encompassing training during work also helps management to appreciate their employees and understand their capabilities. Employees are able to improve on their skills, and motivation, thereby increasing the productivity of the organization as a whole.

Deming instructs managers to institute leadership in their organizations which is directed towards helping employees better their performances (Bass 1985). Here, managers have to change their responsibilities from ascertaining quantity of output to ensuring quality performance. Managers who get involved with their organization make sure that employees work according to the set work standard and meet the set specifications. This principle will also lead towards better performance appraisal methods. By getting involved in their organizations, managers will better understand the work that they supervise and be more capable to make decisions that lead towards achievement of organizational objectives. Managers will also understand the causes of variations between expected and actual results, and comprehend the differences between special and common causes for those differing results.

In principle eight, managers are instructed to drive out fear from the workplace. Fear in this case takes on different definitions. Fear could be the fear of management, or the fear of knowledge. Some managers use fear as a tool for enforcing discipline in the workplace, or as a means for making sure that performance levels are met. Employees, fearing being reprimanded or worse, being fired, may result into unconventional methods to ensure that they reach their targets. Through the fear of knowledge, management may avoid restructuring their companies in a bid to protect their jobs, and the company may consequently be slow in dealing with competition. Deming suggests that organizations encourage two way communications in a bid to improve on coordination and teamwork. This has been particularly beneficial in increasing coordination and cooperation between departments within an organization. As a result, the use of synergy has resulted into efficiency in productivity.

The principle above goes hand in hand with Deming’s next suggestion, the suggestion of which encourages managers to remove barriers between employees and departments. These barriers go a step further in that management should also break down barriers between an organization and its customers. In the modern organization, different departments have been split to serve different purposes, but they are all intertwined together. All these departments have to work together to solve for broader organizational problems. For example, the research department could gather customer data in the market, information of which could be used by the marketing department when they are formulating a marketing plan.

Edwards Deming proposed the removal or elimination of slogans or exhortations from the workplace. Such exhortations establish targets that employees should reach within specified periods (Tucker 1993). As mentioned earlier, employees may reject such systems since they at times fail to consider the reality on the ground. Most companies emphasize zero defects in their products, but fail to understand that faults could be caused as a result of a malfunctioning machine which could be out of the control of employees. Managers could instead substitute such rules by applying leadership and set appropriate examples. Managers could also set up posters that illustrate what management is doing to improve the work environment and productivity.

Organizations can also benefit from eliminating arbitrary barriers that describe numerical quotas for the employees. These quotas only serve to meet quantity targets, at the expense of quality output. Management can use their leadership to guide their employees on better methods of productivity. According to Deming, employees could be trained on achieving performance based on quality, as opposed to quantity. This will not only boost employee productivity, the company will also be able to improve value of its products, and subsequently become more competitive.

The twelfth principle in Edwards Deming’s works suggests that organizations should allow for pride in the workplace. This means that employees should be empowered so that they feel proud of their position in the organization. Management could consider Hertzberg’s two-factor theory, which states that organizations should build on policies that increase motivation in the workplace, while removing or limiting factors that bring about work dissatisfaction. It is again the task of management to institute leadership to motivate their employees and train supervisors on better modes of improving relationships in the workplace. Managers are also instructed to move from performance based on quantifiable figures and implement performance based on quantity. This principle seeks to increase motivation in the workplace; hence a company may experience lower staff attrition rates. Increased loyalty means that a company will not need to continually recruit new personnel who come with additional costs, such as training costs. Lack of experience in new employees could be costly for the organization in the long term.

Deming also proposed the encouragement of education and self improvement in the organization (Bellcross 2005). This could come in form of training, as both employees and management learn better methods of increasing productivity in the company. Increased managerial knowledge could lead to strategies that would increase the organization’s competitive advantages. Training will enable employees to improve on their skills, which may boost their self confidence and productivity. This principle creates the chances of life-long employment in organizations. Employees who start from the bottom and work their way up the corporate ladder have a better understanding of the organization’s processes, problems and objectives than top management personnel sought from outside the company. Therefore, inbred skilled employees will often outperform outsiders in managerial positions. Implementing this principle also helps develop teamwork within the organization, resulting into efficiencies and better performance levels.

The final point that Deming illustrated was supportive of management’s target of successfully going through the transformation process. Here, management had to be proactive and adopt an organizational culture that would lead to the fulfillment of the discussed thirteen principles. Management had to first define its objectives, and then establish procedures that would ascertain implementation of the thirteen principles. Deming indicates that everybody in the organization is responsible for the achievement of quality and increased productivity. Management could embrace the new philosophy, and transform themselves and the organization in whole.

Another key contribution from W. Edwards Deming was his system of profound knowledge which intended for management to go through a transformation. Deming called on managers to try and evaluate their organizations as from an outsider’s point of view, which was the only way a system can assess itself. From this perspective, management could evaluate its performance and relationships within their organizations. The system would also guide management from prevailing practices towards achieving the new philosophy.

Deming’s system of profound knowledge helps managers to understand the importance of healthy interactions between people, thereby aiding in the transformation of management and the organization in general. Managers learn to listen, and therefore gain insight on what employees experience, as well as their difficulties. Increased knowledge of employees may lead to managers making decisions that create friendly work environments, pride in the workplace, and build on employee motivation, thus increasing productivity. Managers also have to encourage continuous education in the organization. This permits employees and management to acquire insightful new knowledge and skills in more effective methods of lowering costs while improving on quality of the products and services.

By implementing the system of profound knowledge, organizations could understand and appreciate their system, made up of suppliers, customers and other stakeholders. Deming also recognizes that people are different; hence the ranking system may not necessarily work as a motivating factor for employees. The performance of employees is greatly influenced by the overall organizational system, of which management is responsibility. Once management understands the interactions among the various elements in a system, then they could make decisions that would have a positive impact on the organization as a whole.

Lessons learnt

W. Edwards Deming was a leader dedicated to improving working conditions as a means to improving an organization’s productivity. The key to competitiveness, according to Deming, was in increasing the quality of output from the organization. The most efficient way of accomplishing this would be by using effective leadership to guide workers on ways to improve their productivity. Leaders who value their employees use education as a tool for enhancing their worker skills, development of which will be vital in improving the quality of products and services offered to consumers. This means that managers have to get involved in their organizations and substitute management with leadership so as to be effective.

Knowledge and theory have to adapt to new changing environments. Where new observations rule out or refute previous knowledge, then mangers that had previously based their decisions on past findings have to review their position in light of the current circumstances. This means that knowledge should not be static, but should be flexible in a way that allows for continual improvement. Likewise, companies should not adopt rigid structures, but should be quick to adapt to new technologies and changing environments.

Leaders could improve on the performance of their organizations by following and implementing Deming’s 14 principles. Without a clear purpose, organizations could diverge from their core objectives, and may make strategies that only serve short term goals. Leaders should inspire their organizations to use long term planning, as opposed to short term profitability. Implementation of a long term vision ensures that strategies formulated are consistent, while the company works to improve the quality of its products and lower total costs in the long run.

Management should do away with measuring performance levels of employees based on figures alone. Not all employees are the same, and setting high targets may seem to de-motivate employees. Also, setting high targets may influence employees to use unprofessional methods to achieve those targets. Consequently, such numerical targets may lead to a compromise on value of the output since employees are directed to achieve quantity targets, rather than quality standards. The organization may lose its competitive advantage by not adding value to consumers.

A vital point for Deming has to do with the treatment of employees in the organization. Majority of the principles in Deming’s work describe to management ways in which they can improve the relationships in the organization, remove barriers and fear, and lead to the achievement of company goals. Empowering employees can come from using better appraisal methods, continual education in the job and improving communication in the organization. In a company without a clear path to employee growth makes employees feel insecure. This affects employees negatively in their job performance (Murphy & Cleveland 1995).


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