The Twelve Leadership Principles: Principle One

leadersFor the next twelve days, I will be posting daily one of the Twelve Principles of Quality Leadership followed by some questions you, as a leader. may wish to ask yourself. Hopefully the description and inquiry will cause you to think about how you lead and what you may need to do to improve your leadership style. Welcome aboard! And don’t forget to post some commentary. It can be a learning process for us all.


Systems, Leadership, and Teams




Continually monitor the systems you are responsible for to improve the quality of the process and, ultimately, the quality of the output.  Leaders have responsibility for the improvement of systems — this is creative and important work.  In the past, we have emphasized that the job of a manager was to watch over, maintain and inspect systems.  No more.  Our job today is to improve these systems — continually, incessantly and forever.  If we see our job as inspecting systems we can be replaced by a machine — a computer.  Our employees also see that kind of work as being not important.  If we see our job as the improvement of systems we cannot be replaced by a machine — only creative and caring people can do this kind of work and our employees know it.  This is also a good human behavior rule.  People don’t like to fail.  When they do, it is wise to look at systems first.  Only after systems are examined is it fair and safe to examine how people may have failed.  We should be trying to get at the root of the problem, not attempting to fix blame on an individual.  If a system is out of control it is only a matter of time before the next employee gets in trouble.   The solution is to fix the system.  Leaders work on the system; employees work in the system.  Standards need to be set, feedback given and control limits established.  There will be variation in performance but it should be within the established upper and lower control limits.  Variation is a fact of life and to be expected.  Those who fall below acceptable performance should not be punished.  Our JOB is to ascertain what they need from us — training, encouragement, support, feedback — in order to get them into the range of acceptable work performance.


a.  Think of three instances of an employee in trouble.  Which situations appear to be a result of a system problem and which instances appear to be a person problem?

b. How would you approach an employee who is having trouble because of a system problem?  How would you approach an employee with a person problem?  How are the two approaches different?  How do you know which problem is the result of a systems problem and which is the result of a person problem?

[From The New Quality Leadership Workbook, by Couper and Lobitz. To be published this year.]

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

11 Responses to “The Twelve Leadership Principles: Principle One”

  1. Good advice, huh? Thinking back to being a manager, I’d like to believe I followed these principles, but maybe I didn’t. Too busy “managing” to follow ANY advice. [?][?]

  2. The sytem often need improvement, good words for managers to follow.

  3. Even if you ask the people, what good would it be if you did not follow through with what they had told you? Otherwise, why did you bother to ask them in the first place, if your already had made up your mind about their opnions and viewpoints? You just waste their time and your time. One of my managers asks us for our opinon on her plan to resolve a problem. We told her it would not work and then she blew up at us and told us she did not care about our viewpoint and all she wanted was for us to implement her plan no matter how we did it to get it done.

    • You are aware of the danger here (the manager who doesn’t listen and really doesn’t want feedback). Good leaders need to be aware of that. A false move in which they are not really listening, and (worst of all) defensive posturing when things aren’t going the way they want them to, scuttles the whole thing. What leaders need to learn is the importance of getting their own interior life in order, to be able to deeply and generously listen to others, respect them and their opinions, and then not to get angry when they don’t hear what they want. When a leader ask for input (and those on his or her team believe that leader to be authentic), magic can happen. But along this journey of teamwork, mutual respect and collaboration are scores of potential “land-mines.” Integrity counts big-time here! Thanks, Gunther.

      • You are welcome. It is why Edward Demning said that fear needs to be driven out of the workplace.

      • Absolutely, that’s what he said! How have we driven fear out of the workplace? How many workers today live literally in fear of their bosses or losing their jobs?

      • “What leaders need to learn is the importance of getting their own interior life in order,….”

        Unfortunately, too many bad leaders think that their life is in order and have an unhealthly, overbearing self confidence of themselves and their abilities even if their life was in order.

        “….potential “land-mines.” ”

        You might as well include ambushes, booty traps, and IEDs.

  4. “How many workers today live literally in fear of their bosses or losing their jobs?”

    Unforunately, it is too many workers…

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