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The Official Baldrige Blog

Yes, You Can Measure and Improve Your Leadership

Photo of Dennis Brouwer the 31st Quest for Excellence Wednesday Keynote Speaker31st.
Credit: Dennis Brouwer

Dennis Brouwer to Speak on Science and Practice of Creative Leadership

Why do some organizations thrive in fast-changing environments while others stumble in the face of similar challenges?

No matter the size or sector of your organization, Dennis Brouwer will answer that question for you—and provide practical advice for improving your leadership—during his keynote presentation at the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program’s upcoming 31st Annual Quest for Excellence® Conference

A successful business author, analyst, and leadership coach, Brouwer has identified a set of measurable leadership practices as the key difference between thriving and struggling organizations. And he stresses that leaders can learn from findings of neuroscience and other research to improve their personal actions for the benefit of their organizations.

Creative Leadership  

“One of the most significant predictors of an organization’s success or failure is whether senior leadership embodies a clearly defined, measurable set of behaviors,” Brouwer said recently. He calls this kind of successful leadership practice creative leadership.

“Creative leaders breathe new life into stagnant organizations by taking ownership of a key set of processes,” explained Brouwer. “They create and communicate a vision of the organization’s future that’s worth caring about, ensuring that every individual team member understands their role in achieving that vision, and unlocking the full potential of each and every member of the team.”

“In the process, creative leaders build resilient cultures that challenge the status quo, corner the chaos inherent in human systems, and defuse the complacency that can cripple unsuspecting organizations,” he said.

Drawing from Diverse Careers  

Brouwer is CEO of The Brouwer Group, a business analytics firm that focuses on helping organizations become more competitive, agile, and customer-focused. In his leadership coaching and two books he’s authored in recent years, Brouwer illuminates leadership practices for achieving peak performance and business strategy.

In coaching leaders, Brouwer often draws from his own leadership experiences in the military and business sectors, including as a flight officer in the U.S. Navy and as a business leader. A formative experience in Brouwer’s early career was achieving success through “collaboration in service to the mission” among Navy aviators like himself and air crew. Brouwer recounted the saying “there’s no rank in the cockpit.” Later, in the private sector, Brouwer turned around a faltering IT services company to successfully manage $300 million in annual revenue.

Insights from Brain Research

Those experiences influenced Brouwer’s decision to study and teach leadership practices. “I wanted to understand in detail what was going on in cases of successful leadership and help others replicate that success,” he said. What he learned and now shares about leadership aligns with the Baldrige Excellence Framework, he affirmed.

Brouwer also pointed out how his guidance for leaders reflects findings from neuroscience. “As the social sciences have disseminated brain research, the connection between neuroscience and leadership is becoming clear,” he said. “About 70% of leaders’ actions are dominated by fears of some kind—fear of failure, fear of what they may have forgotten, etc.”

The risk-averse stances that leaders often reflexively take are based on deep-seated fears that helped ancient human beings survive, he explained. “If you think about it, if you’re a cave man, almost all changes are bad. Those who weren’t risk-averse didn’t survive. So in our brains, we equate change with risk—change, to our brains, is a risky behavior. And that’s what we have to overcome. Because we don’t live in a slow-changing world anymore. Risk-averse behavior can become a problem in our day-to-day work life.”

A good example of how risk-averse behavior can be overcome, Brouwer said, can be found in his military training. “Naval aviators go through a course of carefully curated experiences designed to challenge our fears, enable us to understand the limits of our capabilities, and keep thinking in highly stressful situations instead of just reacting.”

Universal Concepts

The leadership concepts Brouwer shares are “absolutely universal” across military, government, business, and other sectors; and they apply equally to for-profit and nonprofit organizations and those of different sizes, he said. “That universality shouldn’t surprise us because all of these issues are about human relationships and about the human need for purpose and clarity.”

As an example, he described key similarities of health care and military work environments. “There’s a team dealing with risks and challenges, supported by advanced technology; there’s a need for very open communications, and the consequences of people’s actions can be catastrophic—because lives are at stake in a very real and immediate sense,” he said. “In both cases, we’ve found that the most effective units have highly effective, cohesive teams.”

Improving Leadership

Brouwer hopes those who hear his Quest presentation in April will be convinced they can take action to improve their leadership practices.

“There’s an assumption that leadership is like magic—that it’s something you can’t really measure because it’s not quantifiable,” he said. “That’s not true: leadership is definable, measurable, and teachable.” He added, 

“It’s become fashionable to view leadership as a combination of authenticity and transparency. In other words, ‘I know myself, and if I communicate often and clearly, that’s enough.’ What’s missing there is that you must also hold yourself accountable to practice and display leadership behaviors that are consistent with the Baldrige framework.”

“That’s what my leadership [guidance is] all about: what concrete things you can do to become more effective,” he concluded. “Leadership is defined by behaviors, and incremental improvements are the building blocks of success.”


Join us for the Quest for Excellence Conference April 7-10, 2019.

Quest for Excellence® Conference

NATIONAL HARBOR | April 7–10, 2019
Join us for the 31st Annual Quest for Excellence Conference showcasing the best practices of the 2018 Baldrige Award recipients!


Sunday, April 7
Join us Sunday evening for the Award Ceremony and Reception honoring the 2018 recipients.

Register Now | Book Your Hotel Room


About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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