I first began paying attention to the role of leaders in improving operations in the mid-1980s. At the time, I was a manager at Xerox Learning Systems in Canada, and Xerox’s “Leadership Through Quality” program was being rolled out. I observed then that most of the issues were just as much around leadership as around quality. Since the early 1990s, I have worked on over 140 large process-improvement projects—and again, one of the most important impediments to performance improvement has been committed leadership.

The world has changed enormously over the past 20 years. The rapid development of information technology (IT) and the impact of the World Wide Web have fundamentally changed how businesses operate. Various methods of improving ...

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