Quality with a Smile – Struggle Free

Quality with a smile - struggle free

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On responsibility, leadership and in-between

The differences between the revisions of standard ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 9001:2015 do not begin and end with process-orientation and risk management. The old chapter 5, from the 2008 revision, was called Management Responsibility. In the new, 2015, revision it has been separated in two. And the part which remains in chapter 5 has now received a new overall chapter title: Leadership. This change is what I would like to address here now.

At first glance, one may ask: What difference does it make? Why bother changing the name?

Well, I am convinced that this change is not only right, but vital, precise and excellent. I hope you will not only learn to appreciate it, but come to fully switch the concepts in your own mind and overall approach to Quality Assurance.

Illustration: Leadership

Atlante carrying the globe on his shoulders.
Atlante carrying the globe on his shoulders.

The weight of responsibility

When most people think on the word “responsibility”, they immediately see a picture of a burden. Duty, a heavy load which they need to carry. Most managers do not believe their workers would take responsibility of their own volition, therefore, they feel the need to set it up for them and make sure they carry it.

A person who believes that people generally do not take responsibility if they can avoid it, and therefore need someone who would load it on them and keep it there; can such a person be happy for having himself to take on responsibility? I believe not. He is also most likely to feel the responsibility as a burden he has no choice but carry, weighing heavily on his shoulders.

Taking into account the spirit of the standard ISO 9001, as it has always been ever since it came out for the first time, I can say without a doubt that this has never been its authors’ intention.

The intention was, from the start, that the management should lead by personal example. They should, therefore, first and foremost, take the responsibility themselves; that they act of their own free will and out of integrity. This before developing expectations from people at any lower organizational level to take on responsibility for their part.

It is quite clear that this message did not come across, and the chapter was taken literally as a dictate of requirements and demands – by the standard from the management. The standard demands that management take responsibility, whether they wish to or not, and carry this burden henceforth.

A burden or a choice

Basically, this boils down to burden vs choice. To “I have to do it” vs “I get to do it“. And the way the previous title was read and understood was the first, and not the second of the above.

In his abdication letter in 1936, the king of Great Britain, Edward VIII, wrote:

“I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love. I now quit altogether public affairs, and I lay down my burden”.

Aside from his forbidden love story, the apparent trigger for his abdication, Edward saw his kingship as a great burden, and not as an honor. Not as an opportunity for leadership. Small wonder he chose to get rid of the burden (which brought out only negative emotions) and go with his lover (whereas here the emotions were positive).

King Edward VIII of Great Britain

Illustration: manager belittling a worker

Correcting the error

Now, in the 2015 revision of the ISO 9001 standard, this was corrected. 

No more talk of responsibility. The word “management” disappears as well. Now it is all about leadership.

Which begs the next question: what is leadership and how is it different from management?

Well, first let’s state the obvious answer. We even have jokes and parables made on this subject. For instance, we have a saying in Hebrew:

“Those who know how to do something – do it, those who don’t – manage”.

If you ask the workers at many workplaces what they think of the concept of “manager”, they would tell you: “The one who interferes with our work”. In many workplaces, organizations and plants, the majority of workers claim that the managers are just “out of touch with reality and don’t understand what is really done and how”. They hardly ever listen and or ask the workers about their job, usually telling them what to do and how to do it.

If so, then what is a leader?

A leader can see where you should go, where he wants to lead. He has a vision. Thus far he may not differ much from the manager. But he knows how to lead the people there without resorting to force, without manipulation, but willingly. He can share his vision with them. Allow them to see that same better future he can see and motivate themselves to make the journey which will take them there

He knows he cannot push everyone himself in order to get there. So he would take care that they may motivate themselves, and maintain this self-motivation when he is absent. He will also help renew it again and again, inspire them, and, naturally, lead by personal example.

The intention in ISO 9001:2015 revision is to turn the tables. Free all the managers of their burdens and their heavy loads, and inspire them in a lighter spirit. Breathe new life into them, where they may become leaders, not managers. To lead by choice, not out of duty.


Illustration: leadership - showing vision of alternative reality
Illustration: leadership - showing vision of alternative reality


Management vs leadership

At the end of the day, the boss, or the manager, mostly sees their role as the one who demands the execution of this or that in this or that particular way. This limits it to a narrow window for possibilities. By the very demand he creates resistance and resentment. While the limitation states that he doesn’t really see the individual workers at all, but only the demand and his own solution for it. In this situation the people will do as they are told, but not a whit more, and only as long as the demand is supported by control.

On the other side, a leader demands nothing. He brings vision and inspiration, followed by expectation for the best you can possibly do – with all the possibilities wide open. The result is that people do on their own, without being told, and surprise everybody, including themselves.

The Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, has said:

“A leader is best, when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did it ourselves’.”

And the next two citations belong to John Calvin Maxwell, an American author, speaker for leadership and pastor:

“Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others”.

“A leader is one who knows the way, walks the way and shows the way”.

John C.Maxwell

Illustration: leadership vs management
Illustration: leadership vs management

Quality Assurance = leadership

And here we come to the true significance for Quality Assurance of the change of a word or two in the ISO 9001:2015 standard. Replacing “management responsibility” with “leadership”.

All this is indeed the role of a successful Quality Assurance professional. For then his job is no longer a constant struggle with the workers. He becomes an inspiration to the people who go along with him. Willing cooperation, bringing results with no glass ceiling, no limits.

Then do we get Quality Assurance with a smile, struggle-free.

So, are you ready to become leaders?

Statue of the Atlante carrying the world, on the Doge’s palace, Venice. Image courtesy of The Art Post Blog.
King Edward VIII of Great Britain. Image from History Jar website.
John C.Maxwell. Image source: The John Maxwell Co. website.  ​

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