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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cristina DiPietropolo

Leadership: What can we learn from Alan Mulally and Ford Motor Company? Part 2

It was rumored that before Alan Mulally took the helm of Ford, internal meetings were like mortal combat.[1] Henry Ford himself was incapable of overcoming a deep-rooted, careerist culture that resisted change and put individual advancement ahead of corporate success.[2] Mulally changed the way employees interacted with one another and created an environment of trust and collaboration, something that had been missing from the company's culture since the inception of Ford Motor Company. In the final installment of this two-part series, we focus on three areas in which Mulally excelled and helped him build trust and collaboration within Ford: the importance of having an operational mindset, promoting cultural change, and recognizing the importance of employees.

As a charismatic and transformational leader, Mulally used his influence, persuasiveness, and communication skills to share his vision for Ford with his followers. His leadership style has several characteristics that enabled him to navigate change within Ford Motor Company successfully. As leaders, we can all learn valuable insights from Mulally.

  • He has an operational mindset, which allows him to identify complex problems quickly and generate resolutions. One distinguishing difference between leaders who succeed at driving collaboration and innovation versus those that fail is their ability to grasp complexity[1] and translate it into achievable initiatives.

  • He is a master of cultural change who has a clear vision of overcoming resistance to change while focusing on strategy execution. Leaders often need to align the existing culture to implement the organization's vision and strategy, as strategy effectiveness depends on cultural alignment. It includes creating transparency, holding people accountable, and fostering teamwork, which requires skill, determination, focus, and boldness on the part of the leader.

  • He recognized the importance of employees and the valuable insights they could offer to improve Ford's product lines. Leaders need to be open to feedback and make themselves accessible to employees as they have first-hand knowledge of problems and can provide innovative ideas or make suggestions on how to improve inefficiencies.

As a leader, you need to envision the direction you want to take your organization in and create a comprehensive and straightforward strategy for transforming that vision into a reality.[2] It's more than just visionary thinking and coming up with new products or services. It's about getting everyone, not just a few select employees, to generate new forms of thinking at every level within the company. It's about driving company-wide collaboration for a common goal.

Organizations are complex systems with many independent variables that continuously change and remain in what is referred to as the "edge of chaos."[3] If an organization has very little structure, it is challenging to implement change and results in chaos. If an organization is too structured, it becomes rigid and resistant to change. For an organization to maintain its equilibrium, it requires constant managerial vigilance to avoid slipping into pure chaos or pure structure.[3] Mulally's ability to drive change while simultaneously changing organizational structures is a testimony to his remarkable ability to lead effectively by understanding individual employee behaviors, combined with his knowledge of organizational operations.

We hope you enjoyed this article. If you want to learn more, our Leadership training for practitioners contains all the materials you'll need to strengthen your leadership skills to help you cultivate connections with your employees or clients. Email us at info@leaderessentialsgroup.com for more information.

Dr. Cristina Rosario DiPietropolo is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience across multiple industries and highly skilled in the areas of strategic planning, organizational behavior, human resource management, change management, and Leadership. Over ten years of teaching experience as a university professor of management, with a special focus on Leadership in entrepreneurship, organizational behavior, and international management.


_________________________________________________________________________ [1] Caldicott, S. M. (2014). Why Ford’s Alan Mulally Is An Innovation CEO For The Record Books. Retrieved November 21, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahcaldicott/2014/06/25/why-fords-alan-mulally-is-an-innovation-ceo-for-the-record-books/ [2] Hoffman, B. G. (2013). American icon: Alan Mulally and the fight to save Ford Motor Company. New York: Crown. [3] Brown, S. L., & Eisenhardt, K. M. (1997). The Art of Continuous Change: Linking Complexity Theory and Time-Paced Evolution in Relentlessly Shifting Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42(1), 1–34. https://doi.org/10.2307/2393807

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