Crosby, a corporate vice president with ITT Corp. for 14 years, quit his job in 1979—the same year his now-classic book, Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain appeared. He launched a consulting business in 1979 that, in 10 years, grew to 300 employees and $80 million in revenue. In this interview with Working Smart, Crosby discusses how managers can acquire the authority to lead.
WS: What do you think separates mere managers from true leaders?
Crosby: Leaders have an agenda. They don’t need to have all the answers, but they’re not afraid to say what they’re going to do or what they want to achieve. They also take the time to build relationships with their staff. That doesn’t mean they become best friends with their employees, but they do show interest in them as fully dimensional people and they help them to become more successful. A mediocre manager, by contrast, doesn’t go that extra mile.
WS: How about knowledge level—are leaders smarter than everyone else?
Crosby: They certainly are more worldly. They have the ability to think about more than just their own narrow area. They realize that there are 5 billion people out there, that we’re in a world economy where it’s important to move beyond narrow boundaries of understanding. They think on many levels, taking into account all sorts of factors that others might miss.
WS: Most managers would surely agree that it helps to be a broad thinker. But in practice, how can someone become more worldly?
Crosby: Read more and be curious. Read The Economist—a magazine that gives a great worldwide view. There might be someone in another part of the world dealing with the very same problems that you’re facing, whether it’s staffing or managing change or whatever.
WS: What do you see as the No. 1 mistake that otherwise competent managers tend to make?
Crosby: They get so wrapped up in what top management is doing that they fail to think about their own employees. They forget who they’re doing business for. Instead of thinking about improving their operation or listening to their employees or customers, they dwell on every move that senior management makes and they think, ‘How does this affect me?’
WS: You were a rising executive at ITT Corp. How did you beat out rivals for promotions?
Crosby: At first, I had a tough time moving ahead. But then I decided that I was going to be useful and reliable. So I went to Toastmasters and studied speaking to become more useful. Almost everyone else makes lousy presentations, so I figured this was a way I could stand out. It worked. When I was a quality engineer, I got sent to a conference. When I returned, I was asked to give a presentation to higher ups on what I’d learned, and I summed everything up so that they could understand easily. Afterward, they were just thrilled and they gave me more responsibility. They said, ‘Where did this guy come from?’
WS: How can a manager gain compliance from staffers?
Crosby: It all boils down to trust. People follow a manager they can trust. Leaders don’t change horses in the middle of the race. They’re dependable. And they treat everyone the same, from the people in the stock room to top management. They don’t kowtow to the big boss; employees notice that.
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