Column: Leadership's vital role

Sept. 1, 2003
Leadership has always fascinated me. I’ve always admired and studied people who got things done with other people. While writers such as Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis are acknowledged experts with many excellent books to their credit, John Maxwell has recently become one of my favorites.

Check him out at

In a recent talk, Maxwell noted, “Success comes when you know the difference between motion and direction.” Think about this phrase for a while. Do you feel like you are going nowhere faster? We had a standing joke at an automation company I worked for that pictured some people like cartoon characters where you see lots of dust and turkey feathers flying, but nothing being accomplished.

Don’t be so quick to just blame your managers or the company in general. Look in the mirror. Are you also creating a lot of smoke, but there are no signals coming out?

What does this have to do with our focus this month on safety and security? Every one of the articles dealing with this focus discusses standards. Do you think that these standards are derived from thin air? Or, are passed down from some kind of geek gods on a technical Olympus?

Actually, most standards are set by people like typical Automation World readers, that is, leaders. Some leaders have a “C-level” title, or perhaps director level. But many titles may also say manager, engineer, specialist or even consultant. These people have knowledge of a topic and a passion to move the industry forward.

An example of just such an event was held in June in Boston in conjunction with the ARC Advisory Group ( Forum. The ISA 95 committee met to discuss the state of the standard and the direction they should take in the near future. It’s a gratifying experience to hear engineers and managers from competitive technology suppliers as well as from the user community discuss how to cooperatively advance the state of the art.

Another example of leadership is active participation in various engineering or other organizations. I’ve been a member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME, for many years and also of ISA—the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society ( I can’t participate as much as an editor as I did when I was in industry, but even so, there are many benefits from increased knowledge opportunities. Many industry leaders come from the ranks of those who participate in experiences beyond their own factory doors.

Grow your contacts

Professor Jill Perry-Smith of the Goizueta Business School of Emory University says in her report on Knowledge @ Emory ( that leaders need to move outside their close network in order to spark creativity. She found that a loose network of contacts outside your normal circle of friends or associates within the department or company spurs new ideas and creative solutions. While you consider the benefits to your career, your company and your industry by the leadership you can supply, check out Perry-Smith’s article and search out some new contacts.

Still another form of leadership is that of leading companies. I’m writing this during NI Week 2003. Austin-based National Instruments ( holds its annual users conference each year in the August heat of the hill country of Texas. This year, the weather was unusually cool (for Texas, that is) but product introductions were hot. A news analysis in this issue notes several of the significant announcements. But the point here is that a public company was able to invest in significant research and development over the last two years of a slow economy. With the economy poised for a rebound, NI has positioned itself with many new products to reap early benefits.

Are you just moving, or are you going somewhere?