Manufacturing leadership and public policy are the topics of IndustryWeek Editor-in-Chief Patricia Panchak's Manufacturing Agenda blog

More on Books about Enlightened Workforce Leadership

Jan. 16, 2014
Why In Search of Excellence deserves to be considered among the Best Business Books about effective workforce leadership strategies.

I received a bit of push back about two of the books I put on my list of The Best Business Books about Enlightened Leadership: Good to Great and In Search of Excellence. Not a lot, but enough to send me back to reread a few chapters. Turns out, my critics were right about one of them: Good to Great doesn't belong on this list, though it still impresses me as an excellent leadership strategy read.

Rereading the "Productivity Through People" chapter of In Search of Excellence, however, confirmed for me that the book belongs.

Early in the chapter, a quote sums up what it means to practice enlighted workforce leadership:

"Treat people as adults. Treat them as partners; treat them with dignity; treat them with respect. Treat them -- not capital spending and automation -- as the primary source of productivity gains. These are the fundamental lessons from the excellent companies research."

Another demonstrates how the practices correlate with excellence:

"There was hardly a more pervasive theme in the excellent companies than respect for the individual."

And a third indicates the benefit:

"These companies give people control over their destinies; they make meaning for people. They turn the average Joe and the average Jane into winners."

Variations on each of these statements have become standard characterizations of enlightened leadership.

Throughout, the chapter addresses -- via mini case studies, quotes from top executives and anecdotes -- what it means to practice enlightened workforce leadership. It includes mini case studies from HP, Walmart, Dana, Delta Airlines, McDonald's and IBM. (Yeah, I know, I also did a double-take on those first two, but leadership changes...)

Another section ennumerates the characteristics and practices that these companies share, including "an apparent absence of a rigidly followed chain of command," signs of "training intensity" ("Disney U., Dana U., and Hamburger U., for example."), and "the importance of available information as the basis for peer comparison," among others.

The chapter concludes:

"The excellent companies have a deeply ingrained philosophy that says, in effect, 'respect the individual,' 'make people winners,' 'let them stand out,' 'treat people as adults.'

In Search of Excellence isn't a book you'd read if you're looking for specifics on the steps must take to create an engaged, empowered workforce, but it's, well, excellent if you're wondering why it's important, what it can achieve, and how--in the broadest sense--to lead in order to create it.


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