The Art of Working Together – Global Leadership Summit, Session 2

The speaker at Session 2 of the Global Leadership Summit was Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford Motor Company. When he accepted the position, he was picked up in a Land Rover (a non-Ford vehicle) and, upon arriving at the Executive garage, discovered not one car in it was a Ford.  Consumer tastes were changing and Ford was running behind, projecting a $14 billion loss for the year. At his first press conference, one journalist asked Alan, “You don’t know anything about the automobile industry.  It’s in trouble, and you know nothing…are we in trouble?”  This marked the first step in a new chapter of Alan’s leadership path.

Question:  How focused is your organization?  Are you in tune with the culture and world around you?  Are you addressing a real need and serving your community or simply doing what you’ve always done?

Alan began by selected leaders from each of the key divisions at Ford, got everyone together, and together, they started building a plan.  The team decided every new vehicle produced should be best-in-class and serve all world markets. They raised $23 billion for the plan, and accelerated production of the new vehicles in a down economy.

But as the plan began to unfold, Alan noticed a bigger problem:  Many organizations, Ford included at the time, didn’t allow “red status” initiatives to be shown to management.  Presenting employees would lose their jobs.  So all status charts at their preliminary team meetings were green, despite the known fact that the company was losing billions of dollars. The lack of candidness had created a wildly unhealthy culture and threatened to derail the plan.

Question: Do you deal with reality in your organization? Are you telling people/leadership what they want to hear or are you keeping it real?

The breakthrough finally came when the first manager had the guts to show a “red” status on his initiative. Alan clapped. He asked the team, “Is there anything we can do that can help Mark right away?” and as Alan made a positive example of this manager, the team responded. Once people were willing to deal with reality and work the plan together, he knew they were going to be OK.

Ford has had a dramatic turnaround:  added a dividend of 5%, shareholders, suppliers, and surveys have had marked improvement.  In fact, while only 42% of nation wide employees have a positive impression of the company they work for, a shocking 89% of Ford employees report having a positive impression of their employer.  One of the biggest shifts made in this ground shaking turnover, was the intentional effort Alan made to move from “me” to service.  People first.  Everyone included. 

When people are offered a compelling vision, comprehensive strategy, relentless implementation, and clear performance goals they thrive.  Employees value facts and data, and while most already know the “big picture,” knowing the one, specific plan, its current status and the areas that need special attention help rally all around a common cause, strengthening their efforts and pushing further faster as one unit. 

This unity continues down to the most basic levels:  respect, a listening ear, a helping hand, and a little appreciation go a long way.  People need to trust the process and the leader, and have a little fun along the way.

Question:  Do your employees trust and respect you?  Do they know and trust the plan?  Each other?  Take some time this week to find out and begin to build a unified culture of respect and service.