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A Theory of Leadership for Quality


The role of managing quality is essential in todays environment, as evidenced by the popularity
of the TQM movement and the success it has brought to a number of organiz- ations (Easton & Jarrell,
1998; Douglas & Judge, 2001; Hendricks & Singhal, 1997). However, the role of leadership in
managing quality is relatively unaddressed in the leadership literature. Despite the acknowledgement
of the construct validity of the Total Quality Management philosophy by organizational behaviour
researchers (Hackman & Wageman, 1995) and its importance to the field of management theory (e.g.
Anderson et al., 1994; Dean & Bowen, 1994; Spencer, 1994), research on quality management as a
legitimate role of leaders has not received much attention (Waldman, 1993) in any of the approaches to
leadership research (see House & Aditya, 1997 for a review of the multiple approaches). Thus, the
potential for integrating the leadership literature with the quality management literature is great and is
likely to be beneficial for both theory and practice. This article is an attempt at such integration of the
leadership and quality management literatures.
The growing literature on total quality management stresses the importance of TQM to organizational
performance and has repeatedly stressed the lack of leadership support for the failure of many TQM
initiatives. Some investigators have examined the implemen- tation of total quality management and its
impact on organizational performance (e.g. Douglas & Judge, 2001; Jayaram et al., 1999), with both
sets of researchers identifying strong positive relationships between the implementation of total quality
management and performance (see also Hendricks & Singhal, 1997).
Several researchers in the total quality and management literatures have pointed to the importance of
the role of leadership in managing quality (e.g. Anderson et al., 1994; Dean & Bowen, 1994; Repenning &
Sterman, 2002). Hackman & Wagemans (1995) analysis concluded that the founders of the movement
view quality as the ultimate and inescapable responsibility of top management. There seems to be a strong
consensus among the foun- ders of the quality movement as far as the importance of leadership to
managing quality is concerned, as evidenced by their writings (Crosby, 1979; Deming, 1986;
Feigenbaum, 1983; Juran, 1994), with all of these founders viewing quality as a leadership responsibil- ity
and viewing TQM principles as being principles of leadership.
The purpose of this article is to build on the leadership and quality management literatures and
develop a theory of leadership, focusing explicitly on the role of leaders as quality managers at
multiple levels of analysis. Several researchers (see House & Aditya, 1997; Waldman & Yammarino,
1999) have called for such theory development in the leadership literature. Accordingly, following
established guidelines for theory build- ing (Bacharach, 1989; Sutton & Staw, 1995; Weick, 1995;
Whetten, 1989), this article builds a theoretical framework of leadership for quality around the core
principles of the total quality management philosophy to address broad organizational concerns such as
effectiveness and survival. The theory presented in this article views leadership as a responsibility and
capability of managers at multiple levels in the organization. The core principles of total quality
management suggest that leaders in any organization, regardless of their hierarchical level of
functioning, focus on customers and continuous improvement by continuously involving people.
Therefore, the theory developed here suggests that people at various levels in the organization should be
seen from the perspec- tive of their potential capabilities to lead others to achieve the objectives
associated with the three core principles suggested by the quality gurus.
This research departs from that of Waldmans (1993) by directly identifying and articulating the
values, behaviours, and policies associated with total quality management and its associated philosophy
to the examination of leadership. Demings (1986) argument that his views are in fact statements of good
principles of leadership suggests that the beha- viours associated with total quality management are
themselves appropriate leadership behaviours, i.e. the what of the theory (Whetten, 1989) developed
here. Consequently, it is possible to extract from the total quality management philosophy, a set of
traits, values, and behaviours that can lead to positive outcomes for organizations, along the lines of
Anderson et al.s (1994) articulation of a theory underlying the Deming management method.
Such an articulation leads to the identification of crucial leader behaviours in the domains of customer
focus, teamwork, and continuous improvement, two of which have not been examined in the leader
behaviour literature. This article thus attempts to identify the contributions of the total quality
management philosophy to the leadership literature and then generates propositions from the main
principles of that philosophy identified by both the founders of the quality movement and by manage-
ment researchers.
The three core principles of total quality management, namely, customer focus, team- work &
participation, and continuous improvement (Dean & Bowen, 1994), provide a comprehensive set of
principles for effective leadership. Thus, a quality focused theory of leadership would suggest that
leader traits and behaviours should be organized around a broad set of responsibilities that encompasses
focusing on customers (both exter- nal and internal) and getting everyone in the organization to achieve
customer focus and continuous improvement, a set of behaviours not typically considered in the
leadership literature.
I first identify the contributions of the TQM philosophy to the leadership literature. The role of
leadership in quality management as suggested by the TQM literature is then briefly reviewed. The
literature that has focused on either the impact of leaders or the effect of top management orientations on
quality programs is then integrated with the quality and leadership literatures to aid in the
development of a theory of leadership for quality. An initial theory is then presented by building on
the three core principles of TQM and framing propositions around each of these principles,
considering relevant literatures in the leadership area. I then conclude with the contributions made here
to the TQM and leadership literatures and a discussion of the implications for future research and

TQM Contributions to the Leadership Literature

Leadership has been a key topic of research and practical interest for a number of decades. Research
on leadership has taken a number of different perspectives such as the trait approach, the behavioural
approach, the contingency approach, and the charismatic approach (House & Aditya, 1997; Yukl,
2002). Despite their implications for the manage- ment of quality in organizations, these theories have not
explicitly focused on quality and on the role of leaders as managers of quality. Much of the theory and
research frameworks developed focus on leadership as a key managerial role. Within this framework of
viewing leadership as a key managerial role, leaders have been seen as people managers, task
managers, communicators, inspirers, and information processors, but not as managers of quality. This
study contributes to the literature by examining both the traits and behaviours of leaders as quality

Managers versus Leaders

Kotter (1990) is one of the few researchers who have specifically addressed the issue of the difference
between leadership and management. Much of the leadership literature treats the two concepts as
synonymous and there is a lack of agreement and a strong debate in the literature on this issue (e.g.
Hunt et al., 1982). Kotter (1990) surveyed a large number of executives and asked them to provide
ratings of people in their managerial hierarchies on the dimensions of both leadership and
management, based on their own definitions of the dimensions. The results suggest three important
ideas that can be used to create a distinction between the two dimensions. First, very few people are
seen as having both strong leadership and management skills. Second, very few people are seen as
having strong leadership skills but weak managerial skills. Third, a large number of people have strong
management skills but weak leadership skills. This leads one to con- clude that strong managers are not
necessarily strong leaders and are thus not able to provide good leadership. Strong leaders however, are
not weak managers. The perspective taken in this study, with respect to this distinction, is that

leadership is conceptually broader than management and that leaders provide much more to their
organizations than managers. This view is consistent with the writings of a number of other
researchers(e.g. Bennis, 1989; Zaleznik, 1977).
Conceptually, leadership can be seen as that combination of traits, values, attitudes, and behaviours
that result in the effective long-term performance of organizations. This defi- nition draws on the trait,
behavioural, contingency, and other macro approaches to the study of leadership. Whereas Kotter (1990)
separates the concepts of leadership and man- agement, the perspective taken here is that leaders are first
and foremost managers and thus have the responsibilities of both management and of leadership. The
similarity with Kotters view is that not all people in positions of leadership actually provide leadership.
More specifically, all leaders need to be managers but not all managers are necessarily leaders. Thus,
both (seemingly) routine behaviours, such as team design and structuring behaviours, and ultimate
leadership behaviours (Kotter, 1990), such as institutionalizing a culture of quality, and continuous
improvement and customer focus behaviours, are included in the realm of leadership behaviours in the
theory developed here.
This study contributes to the literature by focusing on leadership in the context of organ- izational
processes and examining directly the specific and generic leader behaviours associated with TQM
principles, as opposed to the generic leader behaviour dimensions traditionally examined. House &
Aditya (1997) have pointed out that leadership research has ignored the organizational context within
which leaders work to the extent that a look at the literature might lead one to believe that leaders work in
a vacuum. A consideration of the total quality management philosophy and its component principles can
help identify a number of broad organizational factors embedded within the principles of TQM that
have not been considered in the traditional literature on leadership. Several researchers (Anderson et
al., 1994; Dean & Bowen, 1994) suggest that the core ideas of TQM within the context of
management of process quality are that organizations are sets of interlinked processes, and that
improvement of these processes is the foundation of performance improvement. Many of the
theories of leadership take a behavioural and psychological approach, focusing on dyadic processes as
opposed to organizational pro- cesses such as quality, leading to calls in the literature for examination
of leadership without the exclusion of the organizational processes in which it is embedded (House &
Aditya, 1997). Further, there are also calls for the examination of specific leader beha- viours, such as
the total quality oriented behaviours, as opposed to the generic leader behaviour dimensions identified
by the behavioural approach to the study of leadership (House & Aditya, 1997). This study answers
both of these calls.
The TQM literature makes three specific contributions to the leadership literature that can be utilized
to build a comprehensive theoretical framework of leadership for quality. First, the TQM notion of
participation and teamwork is broader and more wide- spread in the organization than is
conceptualized in the leadership literature. Second, the TQM philosophys concern for customer focus
and continuous improvement and its stress on recognition of these elements by the organizations
leaders is lacking in the leadership literature. Third, the TQM literature stresses the importance of
managers and employees at all levels in the organization, which is also wanting in the leadership

Teamwork and Participation

Participation and teamwork is one of the core principles of the TQM philosophy that has not been
addressed completely in the leadership literature, within the context of organiz- ation-wide quality
management. The Vroom & Yetton (1973) theory of leader partici- pation, dominant in the leadership
literature, is focused on decision making and does not address organization wide participation in
managing quality. Moreover, participatory decision making is only one of the options in this theory
whereas the TQM literature sees teamwork and participation (in the operation and ongoing improvement
of processes) as the default. Participation and teamwork from the point of view of quality management
needs to be organization wide and not limited to specific decisions. Thus, a theory of leadership for
quality needs to address the role of leaders as enhancing organization wide participation and

Customer Focus and Continuous Improvement

From the point of view of the TQM literature, the leadership literature is also wanting in terms of
specifically addressing the role of leadership in emphasizing customer focus and continuous improvement
(the other core principles of TQM) for enhancing organizational effectiveness. For example, the Big-
five personality trait of openness to experience may potentially be related to leadership effectiveness
in terms of continuous improvement efforts of a total quality initiative. Alternately, customer-focus
behaviours and continuous improvement behaviours, such as change-oriented behaviours in Yukls (2002)
three-actor taxonomy of leader behaviours may be related to leadership effectiveness. These have been
relatively unaddressed theoretically and empirically in the leadership literature.

Leadership at Multiple Levels

The TQM perspective suggests that the involvement and participation of managers and employees
at all levels is important to the successful management of quality in organiz- ations. From this
perspective, the leadership literature lacks focus on leadership at all levels in the organization.
Organizational behaviour theorists have generally confined leadership and its effects to the individual,
dyadic, or small group levels of analysis (see Waldman & Yammarino, 1999). Much of the leadership
literature, with the exception of the charismatic and transformational approaches, focuses on the study of
leadership at the supervisory level and thus leader behaviours of supervisors or lower level managers.
The management of quality in organizations is likely to be impacted by the role leaders play at all levels
in the organization, as evidenced by the widespread focus on top manage- ment commitment by a number
of researchers (e.g. Choi & Behling, 1997; Jayaram et al., 1999). Thus, there is a need for a theory of
leadership that focuses explicitly on the role of leaders as managers of quality at different levels in the

The Role of Leadership in Quality Management

Many quality experts believe that the key to successful management of quality begins at the top of
the organization. The TQM literature argues that because senior managers create the organizational
systems that determine how products and services are designed and pro- duced, the quality improvement
process must begin with managements own commitment to total quality. Thus, creating and designing
systems that have an impact on how products and services are produced, and fostering organizational
culture (Waldman, 1993) is the responsibility of leadership at the top of the organization. Leadership at
other levels in the organization is in the form of team design and coaching behaviours (Wageman,
2001) and in the use of appropriate control and exploration structuring behaviours (Douglas &
Judge, 2001). These and other behaviours such as systematic experimentation behaviours and
implementing participation system behaviours are articulated in the theory developed here as key
behaviours of middle and lower level leaders, thereby extending the literatures attention to these specific
behaviours at different levels.
A number of commonalities between transformational leadership and the leadership views of the total
quality management philosophy have been discussed (Dean & Bowen, 1994) from the point of view of (a)
communication and reinforcement of values and (b) articulation and implementation of vision, and (c)
visionary leadership in the form of defining, communicat- ing, and motivating continuous improvement
(Anderson et al., 1994). A facet of TQM that views organizations as interlinked processes (Dean & Bowen,

1994), suggests that those pro- cesses need to be managed from the point of view of continuous improvement
and enhancing customer focus, a set of behaviours that have not been investigated. Thus, the principles of
TQM implicitly contain relevant roles for leadership, in addition to those identified in the lea- dership
literature, that need to be articulated. This article builds on and extends this prior work by identifying the core
principles identified by both these researchers and the founders of the quality movement and then generating
propositions around those leadership behaviours.
Waldmans (1993) theoretical consideration of leadership, in the context of managing
quality, linked variables such as organizational culture, leadership, total quality oriented behaviours
and policies, and outcomes of total quality efforts in a preliminary attempt at deriving the theoretical
linkages among these constructs, which stopped short of devel- oping testable propositions. Most of the
other work in the literature on leadership in the context of quality initiatives is in the form of
inductive approaches and case studies. Waldman (1993) presented a reciprocal link between leadership
and organizational culture but argued for a stronger unidirectional link from leadership to
organizational culture in a later inductive study (Waldman et al., 1998). This article extends and
builds on Waldmans work, by arguing for a stronger impact of leadership on organiz- ational culture
that then subsequently impacts values, attitudes, and behaviours of individ- uals in organizations
attempting to manage for quality. By focusing directly on the total quality oriented behaviours and
policies and identifying appropriate leadership beha- viours, in addition to values and attitudes, based
on consistency with the philosophy of total quality management, our framework adds value to the
extant approaches. Thus, in addition to focusing on the broad range of behaviours such as inspiring
vision, encoura- ging change, and intellectual stimulation, this article articulates more specific behaviours
organized around the broad principles of total quality management. For instance, work on teams and
group processes (e.g. Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Wageman, 2001) is used here to focus on and develop
functional leadership behaviours in the context of teams.

The role of leadership at the top management levels in successfully managing quality has been
addressed by many case studies, examining issues such as the attitudes of top managers that are
necessary for effectively managing quality (e.g. Choi & Behling, 1997), the struggles faced by
organizations in implementing total quality management
(e.g. Rago, 1996), leadership styles that are used in implementing TQM in organizations
(e.g. Savolainen, 2000), the impact of leadership roles on quality initiatives and the inter- relationship
between organizational culture and leadership (Waldman et al., 1998). The general consensus of the
authors of these case studies is that organizations that success- fully manage quality tend to have leaders
that can effectively involve people at multiple levels in the organization and motivate them to participate
in, and as, teams in the manage- ment of quality. This consensus among the various case studies relates to
the value of the three core principles of the TQM philosophy and its utility in providing the basis for a
theoretical framework that can make significant contributions to the leadership and TQM literatures.
Values related to the three core principles of customer focus, continuous improvement, and teamwork are
suggested to be imperative for leaders to successfully lead organizations through total quality
transformations (Youngdahl et al., 1998).

A Theory of Leadership for Quality

The theoretical framework of leadership for quality developed here builds on the three core
principles of total quality management and develops propositions around each of the principles. The
three generally accepted core principles of total quality management
namely customer focus, participation and teamwork, and continuous improvement provide the
building blocks of the theory of leadership for quality, with the associated values and behaviours of
leaders forming the key constructs of the theory.
The theoretical framework built here (see Figure 1) focuses on the values, traits, and behaviours of
leaders at multiple levels in the organization. Based on the theoretical

Figure 1. Theoretical framework of leadership for quality

and case study evidence, values closely aligned to the three principles of total quality management
are theorized to enhance the outcomes such as quality performance and other outcomes, through their
influence on leader behaviours. Specifically, the extent to which leaders value focusing on customers
(both internal and external), the extent to which they value teamwork and participatory processes, and
the extent to which they value systematic experimentation for continuous improvement purposes are
identified as the values held by leaders in organizations that pertain to the effective management of
quality. These are expanded upon and described in the following sections.
This theoretical framework identifies leader values as the driving force that influences both leader
behaviours and eventual outcomes. The view that firmly held human values drive human behaviours has
been an established fact in the organizational behaviour literature for a long time and in the leadership
realm for some time now (e.g., Conger & Kanungo, 1987; England & Lee, 1974). Firmly held leader
values affect leader behaviour by affecting their perceptions of situations and problems, the solutions they
generate, their interpersonal relationships, and their acceptance or rejection of organizational pressures and
goals (England & Lee, 1974). Leader values are also likely to form the basis for the vision they develop
and the cultures they foster in organizations (e.g. Waldman & Yammarino, 1999). In this theoretical
context, the set of values associated with the three core principles of TQM are proposed to lead to the
corresponding leader communication behaviours. Partici- pation and teamwork values of leaders are
proposed to be related to team design behaviours, structuring behaviours, and implementing participation
system behaviours. Continuous improvement values of leaders and the leader trait of intellectance
(e.g. Barrick & Mount, 1991) are proposed to be related to systematic experimentation behaviours.
Leaders high in intellectance tend to be imaginative, curious, and experiment with new ways, rather
than doing things the tried-and-true way (e.g. Hughes et al., 2002). Leader values of information sharing
and analysis, a key Baldridge award criterion, are proposed to be related to both their experimentation
behaviours and participatory behaviours.
In addition to values held by leaders at multiple levels in the organization, the theoretical framework
developed here focuses on leader behaviour at multiple levels in the organization. Leader behaviours in terms
of communicating the importance of both internal and external customers, communicating the importance of

continuous improvement of processes and out- comes, and emphasizing the importance of organization-wide
participation and teamwork are all leader behaviours associated with the management of quality in
In addition, a number of specific leader behaviours, as opposed to the traditional generic behavioural
dimensions, are discussed as components of the theoretical framework devel- oped here. Leader
behaviours such as the implementation and facilitation of participation systems, and the implementation
of several processes related to teams (e.g. team design, careful hiring, scheduling, training etc) focus on
the achievement of teamwork and partici- pation. Leader behaviours aligned with the principle of
continuous improvement such as the design and implementation of systematic trials of experimentation
to separate signal and noise variables in terms of their impact on processes and outcomes are also
identified and discussed.
Several mediating variables in the form of participation effectiveness, and teamwork effectiveness
are seen to result from the leader behaviours, that then lead to the outcomes. The major outcomes in the
theoretical framework identified above are leader effective- ness, quality, and unit performance. Leader
effectiveness, consistent with the literature, is defined both in terms of objective outcomes such as
quality performance, and effectiveness of continuous improvement efforts, and through subjective
outcomes such as the satisfaction and commitment of subordinates in the unit and leadership ratings.
The propositions that form the major components of the theoretical framework are identified and
developed in the following sections.

Customer Focus

Generally, the term customers, in the quality management literature, refers to both internal and
external customers. Internal customers arise when the output of some organizational members is passed
on to others or when the work of some organizational members depends on that of others in the
organization. The TQM literature typically defines the next process down the line as the internal
customer (e.g. Ishikawa, 1985). Drawing broadly from an open systems view of organizations
(Thompson, 1967), it may be ben- eficial to view different levels in the management hierarchy as
internal suppliers and customers to other corresponding levels. If internal customers are defined as those
whose work depends on that of others, managers, subordinates, and other departments can all be
viewed as customers of the focal individual or organizational unit and they become part of the customer
focus. Consistent with TQM principles, the assessment of these cus- tomers requirements serves as a
tool to foster cross-functional and cross-hierarchical cooperation (Ishikawa, 1985) in achieving overall
organizational objectives. Conse- quently, from a leadership point of view, those who focus on and assess
the requirements of all internal customer groups are likely to be more effective than those who do not
focus on such internal customers. Thus, focusing on customers at multiple levels in the hierarchy and also
at different horizontal levels becomes a key leadership responsibility. For an indi- vidual at any particular
level, the customers are (1) their subordinates, (2) their managers at higher levels, and (3) other
departments or groups of people that traditionally take on the role of internal customers. Leaders need to
focus on all of these customer groups and their satisfaction to achieve total quality. The behavioural
approach to the study of leadership
(e.g. the Ohio State and Michigan studies) focusing almost exclusively on subordinates, deals with
task- and relationship-oriented behaviours which may or may not be inherently customer-focused (House
& Aditya, 1997). Thus, this core principle of TQM philosophy highlights the value of customer focus
and adds the crucial leader behaviours vis-a`-vis customers to the realm of leader behaviours.
Choi & Behling (1997) argued that top managers who viewed customers as partners in a cooperative
relationship and aimed to satisfy these customers were more effective in leading their organizations to
be effective than others. Moreover, the concept of market orientation in the marketing literature (e.g.
Slater & Narver, 1994) suggests that customer orientation on the part of organizational executives is likely
to have a strong relationship to organizational performance. Thus, leaders who focus on internal and
external customers and their satisfaction are more likely to be effective than others. In addition to
their own focus on internal and external customers, the leaders role consists of highlighting the
importance of the units internal customers as well as external customers to everyone in the unit. The
importance of the internal customers of the unit and the need for the unit to satisfy the needs of those
internal customers should be first and foremost according to principles of quality management. The
effectiveness of quality leaders will vary as a direct function of the degree to which they effectively
communicate such internal customer needs and their importance to the unit members.