Peter Scholtes

BOOK REVIEW: The Leader’s Handbook

leaders-handbookDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Leader’s Handbook
by Peter Scholtes


This book is at the top of John Hunter’s books-to-read and he recommended it to me. Thanks John!

Peter Scholtes was a student and colleague of Dr. Deming from 1987 until Dr. Deming’s death in 1993 and is considered a key player in promoting and teaching Deming’s philosophy. Alfie Kohn, who is well known in Deming circles and someone I admire, was close to Peter Scholtes and often speaks of him with fondness.

This is a great book. Scholtes is a great writer (often employing humor). Scholtes breaks down Deming’s teachings into digestible form and gives some great real world examples.

Lots of takeaways here. These are some of my favorites:

  • He has a section about the history of why people manage the way we do. This is cool for a history nerd like me and for someone who is always asking why people do the things the way they do.
  • He compares the competences needed for traditional management (Forcefulness, motivator, decisiveness, willfulness, assertiveness, results-oriented, task oriented, integrity and diplomacy) vs the new (Deming) management style (Systems thinker, understanding variation, understanding how we learn and improve, understanding people and why they behave the way they do, understanding how these four things interact with one another).
  • He talked about the mile-wide/inch-deep philosophy vs. an inch-wide/mile-deep philosophy. This is basically doing many things at once but not being good at any of them vs doing just a few things but doing them extremely well.
  • He believes a company’s success will be reliant upon their ability to do good for society vs. being primarily focused on profits and return on investment. That’s a tough pill for many to swallow (though I certainly believe it).
  • He talks about how when a customer complains its an opportunity to learn. Positive feedback makes us feel better and provides a boost to our spirits but offer little else.
  • He pointed out that a competitive edge is having speed for delivery. He had a newspaper snippet that suggested a company have 10-15% idle capacity to keep the backlog smaller and give the company quicker customer response times (this is similar to David Anderson’s belief that slack is a secret weapon). My own thoughts–This is a REALLY tough sell for management. They simply don’t get this concept.
  • He advocates the need for interdependence. One thing he suggests we start asking is “What do you need from me that you are not getting? What are you getting from me that you don’t need?” I’m trying to integrate this into my own work.
  • He pointed out that many of us don’t like using statistical methods because the way we were taught about it ruined us. He said he didn’t like it either and found “columns of numbers to be a sure cure for consciousness.”
  • He had some really good advice on listening skills (don’t give advice, don’t judge, don’t talk the speaker out of their feelings, don’t sympathize– be supportive instead).
  • He talks about heroes and our culture’s fascination with them. This has created the mentality that if something is broken, a hero must come along and fix it. The system is regarded as the source of the problem rather than the source of the solution. This notion is reinforced by Hollywood who often feature heroes overcoming a corrupt or helpless system.
  • He talks about how hard it is for a leader to change a world set in its ways. The culture is set in short term thinking and it makes it tough to think long term. He says because we are at a threshold of change, the leader must be good at both the short term and long term philosophies. This is tough (tell me about it!).
  • He says its difficult for a leader to change when everything they’ve known and done has gotten them to where they are currently.
  • Awesome quote found in the book- “In management, the first concern of the company is the happiness of the people connected with it. If the people do not feel happy and can not be made happy, that company does not deserve to exist.” ~Kaoro Ishikawa.
  • He said converting your boss is a long shot. You probably do not have influence with them and they are working from a different agenda than you are. This makes me sad. Further, he says you may do wonderful things, but until you win the hearts and minds of the people at the top, you will not have significant impact on your organization. This also makes me sad. He says the best thing that will probably happen is that you learn and benefit and bring it with you to your next job.
  • In order to get leadership’s buy in, you will have to meet their definition of success. This isn’t easy because what their definition of success may be different than the new philosophy. If you don’t get the credibility from leadership, though, your ability to influence is nil.
  • If you want to influence your boss, you need to know who he respects and who influences him. If you can influence them, this may be the way to influence your boss.
  • Opposing your boss is foolish, just as it is foolish for a smaller person to engage in a head-on collision with a smaller person (I need to be careful about this, but I absolutely refuse to be bullied and live my life in fear).
  • He advocates the onion patch strategy for change. I’ll be using this.
    1. Learn everything you can.
    2. Identify the area over which you have influence.
    3. Identify your priorities.
    4. Recruit allies.
    5. Have data (use it to indicate the validity of your approaches and describe the current situation and process).
    6. Communicate artfully.
    7. Don’t argue with those who disagree

Scholtes may be best known in the Deming community for his arguments against performance appraisals. Deming was often asked by his audiences what we should do instead. Deming once replied “Whatever Peter Scholtes says.” This is the book folks recommend for debunking the performance appraisal. I found this chapter one of the least interesting parts of the book. I wonder if its because I personally haven’t had much concerns about performance appraisals.

Negatives- I’m not a fan of the spiral bound, but its the only format I see for this book. I wonder why it was chosen. It made me think of a school workbook. Though there are activities at the end of each chapter, I didn’t perform any of them. Maybe I should have. I don’t know. These activities reminded me of the days where I had to do homework—which I hated. (NOTE: John Hunter explained the spiral bound binding. This is a direct result of continuous improvement. Scholtes first book, The Team Handbook, was often read by people doing work on the job, but with the traditional binding, the book kept closing on itself. The Leader’s Handbook has the spiral so the people using it can read the book without it closing on itself).

I’m glad this book is in my library and I’ll be referring back to it. You can buy it here.