Qualities Of An Exceptional Leader, Part VI

The last few articles have discussed the Leadership requirements in the Qualities of an Exceptional Leader. This article will focus on two other requirements, Direction and Action.


Direction is composed of four components—Aim, Planning, Implementation, and Review.


Strategy, like leadership, is an elusive concept. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as “the science and art” of conducting a major campaign to achieve some objective. Strategy is the idea on how to achieve goals. It is based partly on prediction.  That is, if certain activities are carried out effectively, the aim is achieved. W. Edwards Deming has made it clear that the leadership of the organization must determine its aim and establish a system for getting all employees involved in it. Management must determine where the organization is headed in the long term, and what ideal conditions, strategies, and values can get it there.


Management must state a system’s aim so that everyone can understand and be guided by it. A farmer knows he must provide guidance to his team so they are pulling together. So must management provide guidance to employees so they are pulling together to reach their common goal.


The word theory comes from the same Greek root word as theater and means to get a view of, to understand. Knowledge gives us a basis for planning. Deming said there is no substitute for knowledge and that is certainly true for management to determine proper direction for the organization.


Yoji Akao makes a useful distinction between planning and designing. Planning is determining what to make, designing is deciding how to make it. Akao’s Quality Function Deployment technique is very useful in comparing customer needs with features of our products or services. Noriaki Kano’s Attractive Quality Creation concept helps to identify the articulated and unarticulated customer and prospect needs.


With the Aim articulated and the Strategy developed to achieve the aim, the next step is to get buy-in from all employees and their participation in achieving it. The Aim and  Strategy should be summarized on a one-page document and distributed to all employees at the same time as management meets with them to explain it and engage in discussions. It usually takes more than one of the senses to effectively communicate important matters.

The final element of the qualities of an exceptional leader is Action. After we have analyzed our leadership style and made appropriate changes in our behavior, have determined and communicated the direction of the organization, we need to take action to achieve results. If you want to be ahead, then you have to get ahead, said Deming.

If you want to be a leading organization, then you have to take action. For those who understand their role of leadership and have provided clear direction for the organization, know the next step is to take focused action to improve performance. The Strategy should be deployed throughout the organization so that every employee has a role in accomplishing the strategy.


Not to be overlooked is the importance of regular progress reviews at all levels to focus attention on the importance of achieving the strategy and to remove roadblocks faced by the employees.


The Quality Masters have provided us with a very clear message of what action to take to achieve the qualities of an exceptional leader. The elements and their key components are:

  • Leadership—roles and responsibilities, appreciation for a system, knowledge of variation, theory of knowledge, and psychology
  • Direction—aim, planning, implementation, and review
  • Action—communicate, deploy actions, and follow-up to get results


What we do with this information determines how successful we are with our performance improvement. One of the first portable computers, the Osborne Executive, had a sage bit of advice in its manual, “When in doubt, do something.” Try some of these concepts out a little at a time (PDCA-plan-do-check-act). Said Lorne Ames, president of INCO Manitoba, “What is important is baby steps.” Gather data on your progress, learn from your mistakes, and move on a faster pace each time around the PDCA cycle.


Dr. Deming said, “It does not matter when you start, as long as you start now.”