The Root Cause

Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems


            People ask me WHY I wrote THE ROOT CAUSE: Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems ( So, let me tell you.

            Before even starting this post, I ask you upfront to excuse my Dutchness―we tend to be direct in the sense that we neither beat about the bush nor do any sugar coating. And yet, same old friends. So, here is my unpolished critique of LEADERSHIP STUDIES.

            Leadership is often presented as a prescription for success, listing examples of what leadership IS and what leaders DO. However, examples of leaders who follow those prescriptions and fail to be successful are waved off with the suggestion that those leaders do not display “good” leadership. So, who is the judge of what IS and IS NOT good leadership?

            Hence, most leadership pronouncements cause me to experience disquieting emotions because they are typically portrayed as the be-all and end-all for enhancing business performance. Leadership is portrayed as an enlightened state of being―something mythical or exalted for which one should strive; something that surpasses and may well replace management, which is believed to be outdated. Due to its popularity everyone claims to be a thought leader of some sort on the topic of leadership, flooding the market with countless variations on a theme, and new competing ones appearing onto the scene every day.

            I have found one caveat though; leaders are assumed to be successful already. Therefore, new leadership skills just claim to make leaders even MORE successful. But, successful at WHAT?

            What have leadership studies to offer those who are not yet successful? What about those plagued with stubborn systemic problems that persist, linger, and keep coming back thus causing them to believe these problems are without solution? What about leaders who want to change strategic direction? Will enhancing one’s leadership skills guarantee success even when passing through uncharted territories?

            My understanding of leadership is that of a practice to improve inter-personal relationships. And that is just one part of a system, which can be perceived as a trident with the following three prongs:

  • Human            the object of leadership studies
  • Machine         work processes and the equipment on which they are performed
  • Interface         methodologies by which people interact with or operate the machine

            Systems thinking teaches that NO part has an INDEPENDENT effect on the system as an organic whole. Consequently, leadership is merely the faucet, a conduit for the water or the system’s workflow. Let me remind you of Professor Michael Porter’s Value Chain model in which he positioned leadership as a part of Firm Infrastructure, which is just one of four support processes of a business. Activities—such as leadership, finance, human resources, technology development and procurement—are grouped together into a separate business support process because every primary business process performs those same activities as part of their daily routine.

            We already discussed that leadership, as one of a system’s component parts, cannot have an independent effect on the system as an organic whole. Therefore, leadership should NOT be portrayed as the be-all and end-all for enhancing business performance. That would only raise some questions regarding claims made with respect to some apparent leadership favorites, most notably accountability, A-players, and A-teams.

            Dr. W. Edwards Deming Et al. showed statistically that the majority of business outcomes are SYSTEMIC in nature. In other words, these results are INHERENT to the system’s Business Governance™—the system’s design, structure or organization, implementation or operation, maintenance, and management. Note that business governance is an EXCLUSIVE executive responsibility BECAUSE no one has more authority to make changes to the system than an executive. Then, why would one consider it a good leadership practice to hold people—including A-players and A-teams—accountable or responsible for effects over which they have NO control; NO authority to make any changes to the system? But, people take note of that leadership practice, and they talk about their mutual experiences among themselves at the water cooler. How is that experience supposed to improve inter-personal relationships?

            Furthermore, leadership prescriptions seem to aim their arrows at rank and file employees. If they would only be more engaged, more efficient, more creative, more whatever. Yet, no one knows more about the capability and capacity of the system than the people who are performing the actual work. And, work effectiveness, efficiency, creativity, engagement, and what-not is determined in large part by business governance! By executives’ job performances!

            In conclusion, Leadership is an integral and valuable part of any business system. Yet, practicing leadership without sound UNDERSTANDING of business governance is foolishness. Unfortunately, IBM reported in their study Capitalizing on Complexity that a majority of executives are bewildered and perplexed by complexity, to which I add that they are overwhelmed by the disruptive effect of new and unforeseen circumstances as they unfold. And, as I just explained, leadership studies do not equip executives with any skills specific to solving systemic problems. That is a function of business governance. This shows that leadership and business governance have a SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP.

            The ONLY remedy against NOT understanding how a business functions as a singular, unique, integrated and open system is to gain such understanding.

            And so, I wrote a book about my experiences, and McGraw Hill published it.
Take a peek inside THE ROOT CAUSE 

Scroll to Top