I humbly acknowledge the following people who are the reason this book could be written:
First and foremost, I thank the people at DuPont Canada, whom it was my privilege to work beside for many decades. In the mid-1980s, we began working to transform the company. During those years, many people – too many to mention – dedicated themselves to creating a new way to operate a complex business organization. All of those people were driven to become better, more competent individual leaders and organizational leaders as the means to grow the enterprise. The direct result of their commitment to excellence has been a strong and loyal and vital culture.
Next, I thank Charles Krone, who worked with many of us from the beginning of our leadership project and who became a friend of the company, not just a consultant. Charles developed with us many critical thinking concepts, including Levels of Thought and Function/ Being / Will (© Charles Krone Associates, with permission), and worked alongside us providing inspiration as well as opportunities for us to develop our learning capacity. His inluence is evident throughout the book in the various frameworks and models I will be presenting. Without his inluence we would not have been as successful as we were.
Third, I must point out that this book has grown out of, and supports the program of, the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) at the University of Toronto. Professor Doug Reeve is the Director of the Institute, which evolved from the Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) initiative in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at the University of Toronto. I am proud to say that I am an alumnus of the university. The visionary leader, Professor Reeve, and his essential partner in the work, Professor Greg Evans, asked me to prepare a course based on my DuPont experience, to deliver it to their students, and inally to write the book.
The Meaning of Leading and Leadership
Leading: The Catalyst for Change
Let me start by asking you to think about a signiicant event in your life that inspired you so that you said to yourself or to others, “That changes everything! Why hadn't I thought about that?”
All of us have experienced important changes in our worlds. You have almost certainly linked each of those changes to particular individuals. We seem to ind it natural to identify important changes, positive or negative, with agents of those changes. Even when many people contributed, we seem to want to link those changes to individuals.
Often in our memories, the change agents who have inspired us are great men and women, many of them engineers or scientists, such as Henry Ford, who revolutionized mass production, and Albert Einstein, who reinvented Newtonian physics. Then, at the personal level, there are people that we actually know who inspired us to change our lives. Perhaps it was a mechanical engineer on your project team who pointed you towards a design change that eliminated a major bottleneck; perhaps it was a civil engineer you know who started a small but thriving construction company; perhaps it was a high school physics teacher who inspired you to pursue a career in engineering.
Let me tell you a story about continuous, dificult, inspiring change that has had an impact on me. The story, which is ongoing, summarizes a long and complicated series of events, all of them related to extraordinary engineering creativity and dificult decision making over a long period of continuous change.1
1 The names in this example are ictitious, but the events are real, as are most others in the examples in this book. The story revolves around a discrete business unit (Package BU) in the polymer materials marketplace. It was one of a number of discrete business units within a large, consolidated technology company (Materials Co.), whose purpose was to create solutions for customers.
Carol had been a research engineer in Materials Co. for many years. She worked largely on other people's ideas, moving those ideas forward by making small but important changes that generated successes. But that would change as she developed from a technical person with a great deal of drive into a person determined to be an agent or catalyst for change.
Carol had an idea that became a passion that she believed could have a strong, positive impact on Materials Co. The concept involved a radically different packaging system for foods – one that would have little environmental impact and low cost. She recruited others in the company to the idea and started a project, and after a long and sometimes frustrating period of experimentation involving many people, she was able to start Package BU. My experience has been that most successful business developments require enormous time, effort, and energy, and that was deinitely the case here.
Even after the business was launched, there were a series of major issues to be addressed relating to less than robust technology and to a marketplace that had become disenchanted with the product. All of these seemingly insurmountable issues were dealt with by Carol and a host of others associated with Package BU. By then, the team she had formed was legendary within the company. They were always setting goals and achieving them. They had embraced a mantra that worked: listen to the customer, reduce costs, boost productivity, and take responsibility for making things better.
Each challenge the Package BU team faced led to innovations, and each innovation allowed the small unit to grow. That growth was slow at irst, but within a few years the unit was of considerable size, though still relatively small within its parent company. All the while, however, Carol and her team had to contend with a series of senior managers at Materials Co. who kept pointedly asking her and her team, “Why should we continue to support Package BU when it is so small and so different from the rest of our business?”
These strategic concerns within the company were a distraction, but Carol often reminded her team, “We need to listen and ind answers to their questions and persuade them to understand us – these executives are our customers, too.” And they did ind those answers, and they continued to get the support of these senior managers, albeit reluctant support.
This challenge became almost a daily one, or so it seemed for Carol and her team and their supporters within the company. Throughout this phase of the story, Carol served as an inspirational role model: she urged her team
to move forward and meet their goals, while at the same time communicating and interpreting their work to the company strategists who were constantly asking probing questions about how her Package BU it into Materials Co.
Eventually, the conlict reached a turning point, with Carol on one side and the company's senior managers on the other, both equally determined. Materials Co.'s senior managers decided that their strategists were correct, that Package BU was not a good it, and that Carol should stop spending time and resources on growing the business. Carol and her team went to work, delivering the same message again and again: unless it kept growing, Package BU would die. But they could not change the minds of the senior executives this time, and the cash outputs of Package BU were soon being diverted to support the company's core businesses.
Finally, the decision was made to shut down or sell Package BU. It was too small and too different, and it was generating too little proit to survive within Materials Co. Carol and her team were depressed. I remember discussing this turn of events with her. Though deeply disappointed, she was adamant that her team would persist and change the minds of the company's senior managers.
I remember asking her whether this might not be the time to give in, to disband the team and go back to solving other people's problems and developing solutions that, so it seemed, mattered more to the company. I remember her saying that her role was to see the strength in both perspectives and to use that to ind even better reasons to grow Package BU as a unit of Materials Co.
Very soon after this, one of her team members had an idea and convinced Carol and the team members of its validity. As a group, they asked for a meeting with the company's senior leaders. The idea they had was simple: if Package BU was too small to it comfortably in the larger company, then transform it into a much larger BU, and do it rapidly by acquiring a company in a related technology and marketplace. As a result of this “reconcile,” Package BU would become a better it within Materials Co. in terms of size and market, and, in fact, transform Materials Co.2
After much discussion, the senior leaders told Carol's team, “Prove your concept to us and we will consider.” So Carol and her team, after engaging in more discussion, experimentation, and persuasion, set out to ind candidates for acquisition.
2 In a “reconcile,” negotiations do not result in losers – both sides beneit. This concept will be discussed at length later in the book. This is an ongoing story, and it isn't clear yet whether the story will be one of success. The outcome of all the work, all the discussion, all the engineering and scientiic advances, and all the emotional ups and downs is not the actual point here. Rather, the message is that the events described here were all catalysed by a person who demonstrated leadership capability. Carol inluenced many people throughout the company to move beyond the status quo. She inspired her team to reach for a better future; she was tenacious in her pursuit of that future; and she incorporated the best ideas of others while moving her unit towards the future she wanted it to achieve. Finally, Carol's work improved the lives of many people: the employees of Package BU, whom she motivated so well; the environment, which beneited from the products her unit produced; and the customers, who beneited from the innovative products the unit produced. As an aside, an acquisition was made and the story of this business unit moved to a different phase of continuous change.
I believe we were put on this earth to improve the lives of others. Few people would dispute that; most would agree. Most of us focus our actions to accomplish that goal on those who are closest to us: family, friends, our community, people who share our values, and so on.
How are we doing?
Many people have succeeded at improving the lives of others – there are too many to ever list, and all of us have our lists. But if we step back and add it all up, we cannot be satisied with the results. I am certain that it is possible for all of us to do more than we have done. There is too much suffering, too much conlict, and too much waste of potential around the world for us to be satisied.
Most people would agree that at the forefront of the work to improve the lives of others, and to improve the world for the better, are those who are functionally competent in science, technology, and engineering. Rapid advances in the various sciences and technologies and in their implementation (by engineers) are many and well known. To ill this book's pages with examples would be superluous.
There have been many advances, many disappointments, and many mistakes in the development of science and various technologies as well as in their implementation. But most of us would agree that overall, science and its outgrowths have made our lives better.
How are we to strengthen this progress fuelled by science, technology, and engineering? How are we as engineers to make our work even more productive, even higher in quality, and even more attuned to people's
needs? What actions can we take to improve people's lives even more than we already have?
I suggest that we require a catalyst to answer these questions and to achieve the goals that are inherent in them. A catalyst like Carol.
Speaking as a chemical engineer, I can assure you that catalysts are wonderful things. A catalyst is a material that has a strong, positive effect on the rate of a chemical reaction and on the amount of energy required to complete that reaction. Yet it is not consumed or destroyed by the chemical reaction it is supporting – it remains to do it all again. In my mind, the leader of an organization is a sort of catalyst – a person who guides the organization passionately towards positive change, doing it effectively, learning from that experience, and doing it again and again – better each time. This is what Carol and her organization did.
Although a catalyst is not consumed in a reaction, it may be poisoned or deactivated in some way, or perhaps coated in waste products. Unfortunately, the same can happen to aspiring leaders who have not prepared themselves: who either have not learned to be leaders or believe they were born leaders. I contend in this book that only those who learn to be leaders will succeed in changing things for the better by inluencing the people who follow them. Leadership competence is not born in any of us; we all need to develop it.
To extend the analogy, a catalyst must be designed carefully for the task it is meant to accomplish. This cannot be done casually. A catalyst, if designed carelessly, can just as easily take the chemical reaction in a bad direction so that the desired outcome isn't achieved. So a catalyst – that is, a leader – must learn to become competent in the leadership tasks at hand in order to succeed in the incredibly dificult work of changing the world for the better.
More questions low rapidly from all this: What is leadership? How do we deine it? Why is it important? The academic and practitioner communities have been debating those questions for many years. Everyone is convinced we need more of it, but no one is able to deine it to the satisfaction of all.
Many books and articles have been written about leadership. Joseph D. Rost in his compelling book Leadership for the Twenty-First Century3 spends much of his time reviewing the literature and concludes that there is no consensus on what leadership is. He is right about that. The torrent of writing about leadership lowing through our world today amounts to various attempts to deine leadership. The resulting deinitions hinge on activities
3 Joseph D. Rost, Leadership for the Twenty-First Century (New York: Praeger, 1993). and their outcomes. For example, a magazine article will declare that a certain company (or activity in that company) has succeeded because of a certain leader, or it will describe for readers a speciic leadership activity.
One main reason why there is so little agreement on what leadership is relates to the fact that people are proposing their ideas about it from different levels of thought. Some propose a conceptual deinition, as in “leadership is visioning.” Others propose an action-based deinition, as in “leaders make the right decisions and get results.” In other words, many deinitions focus on why leaders do what they do, or on how leaders prepare themselves to do what they do. Deinitions of leadership are disputed because those who offer them do not reveal and perhaps do not even recognize which level of thought they have prioritized: Why? How? What?
In his book, Rost discussed at great length the myriad deinitions that have been proposed for “leader” as well as for “leadership,” which he quite rightly views as a separate concept. The word “leader” was already in common use by the seventeenth century. At the time, it meant someone who “guides, conducts, directs, or controls,” which is very much what a modernday leader does.
“Leadership” began appearing in dictionaries in the 1920s, by which time it meant, variously, “the ofice or position of a leader” or “the ability of a leader.” Rost tells us that leadership is a twentieth-century concept, and he is right.
The deinition of leadership evolved from the positional deinitions of the early twentieth century, which described what leaders do, to those of the mid to latter part of the century, which focused on why leaders exist. R.C. Davis deined leadership as “the principal dynamic force that stimulates, motivates, and coordinates the organization in the accomplishment of its objectives.”4
J.K. Hemphill wrote that “leadership may be said to be the behavior of an individual while he is involved in directing group activities.”5
By the mid-twentieth century, deinitions like these had become widely accepted, largely in the context of the development of large corporations and the science of organization management. The head of a large organization or one of its largest parts was called the leader. This individual was at the top of the hierarchy. One result has been persistent confusion when we try to grasp what leading really means and who leaders actually are.
Leadership is a functional activity. It is the work a leader does, in the same way that engineering, accounting, and selling are the activities engaged in by
4 R.C. Davis, The Fundamentals of Top Management (New York: Harper and Row, 1942), 27.
5 J.K. Hemphill, “The Leader and the Group,” Journal of Education Research 28 (1949): 4. engineers, accountants, and salespeople, respectively. All of these people are functionally competent to do speciic work.
A functionally competent engineer can learn to be a leader. That does not mean this person stops being a value-add engineer. Depending on that person's role in the organization, the leader-engineer will spend more or less time as an engineer, or alternatively, more or less time as a leader. An engineering department head in a large, multifunctional company will by the nature of the activity be spending almost all his time in leadership activities. But he will do that job better if he is and remains a competent engineer. It is my philosophy, described in this book, that all people can learn to lead and that all who do so will beneit both themselves and everyone else in the organization and in society. It is not a premise of this book that those who learn to lead lose their other functional competencies or that those competencies should be allowed to deteriorate. The premise is quite the contrary – the competent leader-engineer will add value to the company and to society by growing all the functional capabilities in his or her possession.
Competent leader-engineers, whether their role is largely leadership activities or largely functional engineering activities, are engaged in problem solving and changing things for the better. Having both functional capabilities is advantageous for all concerned.
As I noted earlier, a catalyst is a material that can increase the rate at which a chemical reaction occurs. In terms of leading and leadership, this “chemical reaction” is, quite simply, change. In the world of science, technology, and engineering, advances are made by solving problems and making things and situations better.
The work of leading is “making positive change,” and the primary process for accomplishing that is inluencing people. In this book I will be using the following two deinitions:
Leading is inluencing people to make positive change.
Leaders are people who inluence others to make positive change.