I have a supply of sweat clothes I use for working out during cool weather. Last week, as I put a sweaty shirt and pants in the wash and got out a new set, the shirt caught my eye. It was white with “DR TQM” in large letters across the front. It brought back memories I hadn’t thought about in a long time.
In the late 1980s or early 1990s—I don’t remember the date—I headed the National Security Agency (NSA) Total Quality Management (TQM) staff. My job was to introduce the agency to the concept and principles of TQM to improve its performance. Right around the same time, I completed my graduate studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and was awarded my doctorate in Public Administration.
My tiny staff of four people celebrated my new doctoral degree by presenting me with the DR TQM sweatshirt.
In my memory, those were happy days. I struggled to persuade the NSA top managers to lead rather than to manage—that is, to uplift and support subordinates and encourage them to be all that they could be instead of trying to control them. I was only partly successful, but where leadership became the rule, the achievements were noteworthy.
When I completed my tour and moved on to other duties, the TQM movement fizzled. The staff was eventually dissolved. I was never able to persuade the top agency managers to change their ways. But the agency and I both benefited from my efforts.