Mulally: TRUE North Leader

By February 20, 2015 Uncategorized No Comments

I discovered this week that retired Ford Motor Company President and CEO Alan Mulally was speaking at an ABB control and automation conference here in Houston early next month. So I’m registered to attend.

Q: His topic?

A: The Human Factor

I love reading success stories about turnaround executives, always looking for their leadership lessons … and takeaways from their successes. Of course, have you noticed that studies and articles of leadership are archives only after great successes occur?

Wouldn’t it be interesting, if like picking stocks that were certain to grow in value, business writers predicted a leader’s success instead of chronicling it? Did anyone predict the success of Jeff Bezos (Amazon) AG Lafley  (Procter & Gamble), Steve Jobs (Apple), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) or Doug Conant (Campbell Soup)?

When Mulally (formerly of Boeing) took the reins in 2006 Ford was losing $12.7 billion with the great recession just around the corner. Here’s a clue that is a predictor of his success from an exchange with an “old salt” (my words) in one of his first management meetings.

Old Salt: “How are you going to tackle something as complex and unfamiliar as the auto business when we’re in such tough financial shape?”

Mulally: “An automobile has about 10,000 moving parts, right? An airplane has 2 million, and it has to stay up in the air”.

Guess what happens within 24 hours of this exchange? It passes person-to-person throughout the entire global proud-but-failing enterprise. On my scorecard, here’s what those 22 Mullally words told 110,000 employees (US) about his values and beliefs:

  • value: personal directness best, accountability
  • value: listening (not demeaning contradictory ideas)
  • value: communication of vision “our business is mobility … flying, driving, all the same “
  • belief: complexity can be managed

In retrospect Mulally gets credit for simplifying their business from 97 to 20 products. He also gets high marks for innovation (My Ford onboard entertainment panel technology) and collaboration (One Ford ).

The One Ford idea is my favorite. It’s Ford’s TRUE North and his purpose in creating a singular vision is congruent with our Heart Matters expression: culture represents an organization’s compass … and the leader’s heart is a reflection of TRUE North.

Forbes magazine contributor Sarah Miller Caldicott describes a secret of the One Ford core ideology: “One Ford integrated all the components that are necessary in any major enterprise – wide innovation effort. This type of integration is sometimes called a sponsor spine. It depends not only on visionary thinking in new products, but the ability of an entire enterprise to propel new thinking from team to team, function to function, and partner to partner”

The bottom line: for Mulally, One Ford meant One Team. Here’s what he said in a 2013 interview with McKinsey: “At the heart of our culture is the One Ford plan, which is essentially our vision for the organization and its mission. At the heart of the One Ford plan is the phrase One Team. Those are more than just words.  We really expect our colleagues to model certain behaviors. People here really are committed to the enterprise and each other and working for more than themselves”.

Couldn’t resist … heart matters … and Mulally was successful in forging a culture by leading from the heart … the inspiration came from his intentionally permitting ownership in a meaningful enterprise he passionately and lovingly embraced as One Ford.

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