A Bridge to the Past: Leadership Principles from 30 Years Ago that Still Apply Today


Every day a new list appears outlining the steps organizations and leaders need to take to succeed in the modern world. I’ve written a number of those myself. Yet over 30 years ago, in his book, “Out of the Crisis”, W. Edwards Deming laid down a road map for change during a time of great transition that sounds quite familiar. The themes found in his now famous, “14 points” apply today as they did then.

It struck me as I recently reread these points and his story that we spend a lot of time discussing new books with catchy names and authors who appear in Ted Talks and boast a multitude of social media followers but much of what we count as new is really of the same ideas repackaged for today’s audience.

I am by no means discounting all the great management and leadership books out there and recognize that the many changes in our world today demand new perspectives. It is refreshing though, at times, to take a look back at some of the leadership pioneers who went before us. Those who sought to rethink how we look at leadership and organizations. Below I have recapped Deming’s “14 Points” in their original form for your consideration…

Deming’s 14 Points for Management

1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.

3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.

4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

6. Institute training on the job.

7. Institute leadership . The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.

8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

  • Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.
  • Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

12. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.

13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

For me, there is a pattern that emerges from these points; a pattern I hear discussed in many leadership blogs, forums and articles today.

  • Develop Purpose
  • Drive Change
  • Eliminate Fear
  • Build Leaders
  • Leverage Trust
  • Remove Barriers
  • Engage Everyone

Sound familiar?

If you look further you can find more themes that are still being bantered about today. Isn’t the performance review the modern version of the old MBO’s?

Perhaps our biggest challenge is not that we haven’t found the answers we need but that they have been there all along and we just don’t have the courage and determination to follow through and apply them fully to our practice. This is no small thing. You see if we are always looking for the answers from some new source, we can avoid dealing with the problems. Quite an easy trap to fall into. I say this looking squarely in the mirror because as I read these points I was reminded that I loved and knew them well early in my career. I might well have never read another management book and these 14 points, applied creatively, would have given me everything I need.

As new information comes at us with ever-increasing velocity, it’s refreshing to know that some principles remain the same.



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Do the best leaders really live in San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.?



Our friends at Gallup have invented yet another poll to help us understand employee satisfaction…

Top 10 Cities with the Most Content Workers

And the Winner is? San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles,CA.

No doubt a great place to live and work.

But here’s the catch…

“How workers were treated by their supervisors was perhaps the most meaningful indicator of a healthy workplace. According to Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, workers were far more likely to give positive evaluations to other elements of their jobs if they felt treated like a partner at work. As a result, the cities with the best work environments were largely those where workers most often felt treated like a partner.”

So…is it really about San Luis or Kingsport or Roanoke?

Demographics, income and unemployment rates aside…the survey tells us what we already know.

The quality of the employee experience is largely dependent on the quality of leadership. Surprise?

“In fact, seven of the 10 best cities for work also had among the 10-highest percentages of workers who felt treated like a partner at work.”

The article doesn’t shed light on how the remaining demographic data correlates to the results…other than to note that it really doesn’t make a difference.

“If you have a bad supervisor, your work experience will be poor regardless of the level of your education and financial situation”

Do we conclude that there are just more enlightened leaders in these Top 10 cities?


Truth of the matter is you can survey this topic 15 different ways and come up with any number of correlations.

So the real value of this data might be to remind us that regardless of where we live, we have the opportunity to lead in a way that creates a great employee experience.


  • Treat employees as partners
  • Support a holistic view of employee well-being
  • Provide a positive work environment
  • Create challenging opportunities
  • Build trust

From Cleveland to California…everything rises and falls on leadership.



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