As a defeated nation, post-WWII Japan was in economic tatters and needed a miracle to get back on it’s feet. William Edwards Deming, an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and management consultant, sowed the seeds for such a miracle. Deming worked with the leaders of Japanese industry to raise them up from the ashes and into a new era (Deming, 1986). Arguably Deming made a major contribution to Japan’s reputation for innovative, high-quality products, and for its recovering economic power in manufacturing. In fact Deming may have had more impact on Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage. Deming, known best in the USA for what he called the “System of Profound Knowledge”, offered Western industry fourteen key principles to managers for transforming business effectiveness. Of these 14 principles, number 8 is

“Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company” (Glasser, 1994).

We will see, as we look at basic psychological needs, that motivation by fear is counterproductive. We are fundamentally intrinsically motivated by internal needs and Deming had, at least in part, an understanding of such internal motivations. His work in Japan, and subsequent efforts to transform American industry, had a keen intuition of human nature and how to capitalise on human nature in industry.

Deming understood that the dominating “boss” culture of industry had to change to a leadership facilitation system that gave workers more responsibility, autonomy, and power over what they did on the production line and in the company. Basically managers needed to stop “bossing” and start leading in a way that workers trusted the managers had their best interests in mind. Deming offered the following change of perspective from the traditional boss-manager style:

  1. “A manager is responsible for consistency of purpose and continuity in the organisation. The manager is solely responsible to see that there is a future for the workers.”
  2. “The workers work in a system. The manager should work on the system to see that it produces the highest-quality product at the loses possible cost. The distinction is crucial. They work in the system, the manager works on the system. No one else (only the manager) is responsible for the system as a whole and for improving it.” (Glasser, 1994, p.13)

Deming conceptualised the manager as a facilitator serving the needs of the worker so the worker can do the best job possible. This is typified on a Japanese Toyota production line where the “Toyota Production System” (which became known as “lean manufacturing” in the USA) give the individual on the production line had the greatest authority on what was going on in their part of the line. The idea of pushing decision making and authority to the level of the individual on the line, is highly efficient. Managers with oversight are there to serve the individual on the line with whatever they need should an issue arise. The individual on the line owns the problem and has the most knowledge and experience to solve the problem. Managers facilitate the best environment for that to happen. Of course this requires a great deal of trust and power sharing. We will see, as we delve into some brain science,  that increasing peoples sense of control and trusting them more in the decision making process is fundamentally motivating for them.

Recently Google’s People Analytics department undertook a project to discover what makes for good leadership. The project, named Project Oxygen, found that leaders had the following qualities:

  1. Is a good coach
  2. Empowers and does not micromanage
  3. Expresses interest and concern to subordinates’ success and well-being
  4. Is results orientated
  5. Listens and shares information
  6. Assists with career development
  7. Is clear on vision and strategy
  8. Has key technical skills

As you can appreciate from this list, effective managers are ones who empower their team members to grow and exercise freedoms on a number of levels. These managers do not micromanage their team or team members but trust that the delegated tasks are in the hands of people who will take initiative, be creative, work hard, and produce results.  There are freedoms granted here but the ideal team members also know when to ask for and/or listen to advice from managers and managers know when to let people run with things themselves or step in and offer advice. This two way street can only happen when there is a high level of trust. Managers trust team members to make their own decisions and team members take accountability for their decisions know they can turn to managers at any time for help.

The manager is there to support the team and team members, to ensure the system, or the culture, is serving the needs of those doing the work. How much oversight and direct input a manager has over a team or team member will likely be dictated by the experience and skill of the worker. Obviously new and inexperienced team members will require more oversight than experienced ones who have become the expert and are not micromanaged.


Glasser, W. (1994). The control theory manager: Combining the control theory of William Glasser with the wisdom of W. Edwards Deming to explain both what quality is and what lead-managers do to achieve it. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.