From Tom Peters, a too-slick formula for motivating workers?
New York — Tom Peters: The Leadership Alliance PBS, tomorrow, 9-10 p.m. Host: Tom Peters. Writers: Mr. Peters and Paul Loewenwarter. Producer: Mr. Loewenwarter for KQED-TV, San Francisco, and Video Publishing House. Tom Peters has become the grand guru of management success. His books ``Thriving on Chaos,'' ``In Search of Excellence,'' and ``A Passion for Excellence'' were best sellers. He writes a syndicated newspaper column and lectures to hundreds of management organizations throughout the world. He has played host to three PBS programs and appears regularly on other shows. His audio tapes reach a large audience.
Mr. Peters is said to have enlightened and motivated thousands of success-oriented managers, workers, even unions, with his message of how to apply pop psychology in the workplace. Now, television is once again bringing us his ideas.
Although Peters earned degrees in engineering and business, he is at heart a master showman. He hops around the stage like a stocky Phil Donahue, using vocal mimicry and body language to tell extraordinary tales of individual success.
``The Leadership Alliance'' is basically a series of excerpts from his lectures, in which he recounts the experiences of four people who are leading their organizations to varying degrees of success. He visits each of them at their workplaces as well.
First there is Pat Carrigan, manager of a General Motors plant in Bay City, Mich., who uses her background in clinical psychology to school her workers in the philosophy of cooperation. In her view, the key is for workers to develop a ``sense of responsibility and pride in what they are doing.'' Today, most workers in the plant run their own jobs instead of depending upon supervisors, and they find the plant is a happy, productive place to work.
Then there is Ralph Stayer, president of a Sheboygan, Wis., sausage factory, who teaches his employees to grow in their jobs. They get raises only when they move higher up a skills ladder.
Vaughn Beals, chief executive officer of Harley-Davidson, turned the company around when he encouraged workers to monitor and chart their own quality output.
And Dr. Dennis Littky, principal of Thayer High School in Winchester, N.H., motivates his student body to focus on quality, relevance, and self-respect. He is happy because he has convinced even potential drop-outs that ``it is cool to be good.''
``The Leadership Alliance'' makes it all seem easy, but one comes away feeling that success down the line depends mainly upon the leadership qualities of those at the top. Although in his own business life Peters manages a group that ``urges forward the competitive and management revolution in America,'' he does not delve very deeply in this program into the problems of character and economics that would make much of what he suggests an impossibility in many situations. He focuses on success. He is, after all, the guru of entrepreneurial optimism.
Another thing disturbs me: Peters's slick, hard-sell, offbeat style is unnervingly similar to that of those television pitchmen who are busy telling viewers how to make a million dollars in real estate.
I know it's an attention-grabbing act, but doesn't the subject of the rebirth of personal responsibility in America call for a quieter, more thoughtful approach?