Leadership lessons from Deming

It is 90 years this month since Ed Deming completed his PhD in Physics, but it is his work with statistical understanding of processes and performance of organisations, and its impact on human behaviour and leadership which is his lasting legacy. Deming was alays open to learning new things, up to the end of his life at the age of 93 – a lesson for us all.

A few important concepts which he identified for leaders include:

  • 90% of problems are cause by the system – and the system belongs to management
  • Banish any form of individual ranking or reward because 90% of variation is due to the system and not individual performance.
  • There is no substitute for knowledge. Seek knowledge not opinion or assumption.
  • Engage people in change. From day-to-day activity they know the problems and issues of work better than managers. Give them the measures to understand the activity and they can better make efforts to improve it.
  • Best efforts tend to cause problems. If we just ‘try harder’ it is likely to make things worse, unless we change the system of work
  • Drive out fear. Innovation, ideas, creativity enable high work performance. Fear crushes all of these things.


Deming W.E. (1982) Out of the Crisis, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Deming W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Voehl, F. (1995) Deming the way we knew him. St Lucie Press, FLA


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