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Leadership lessons from Detroit

by HARVEY MACKAY
| January 8, 2023 1:00 AM

I played golf with a friend recently. I was fascinated by his career accomplishments and leadership principles. He's exactly the leader of the future that I believe in, and so I asked him to share his philosophy, much of which I've actually practiced.

Alan Mulally was the president and chief executive officer of the Ford Motor Company from 2006-2014. At Ford, he led one of the most successful corporate turnarounds in history, with Ford becoming the No. 1 automobile brand in the United States. Prior to that, he worked for Boeing for 37 years, rising to become president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, where he led the development of the world-class 777 airplane.

It was at Boeing that Alan first developed his "Working Together" principles, practices and management system culture, in which people flourish and develop a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. In short, his philosophy is "to serve is to live."

Here is his leadership and management system:

People first. Everyone is worthy of respect at all levels of your organization. Appreciate your people, thank them, celebrate them for their work and contributions. Alan often ate lunch in the employee cafeteria and asked employees what they needed to do their jobs better.

Everyone is included. In the past, management in public companies focused on shareholders. Alan's philosophy is that all stakeholders must be included — employees, suppliers, unions, partners, leasing companies, bankers, investors, governments and all the communities where you do business. He calls this stakeholder-centered leadership.

Compelling vision, comprehensive strategy and positive, relentless implementation. The plan must be clear, concise and shared with all of the stakeholders. It must then be carried out with determination and transparency.

Clear performance goals. Alan believes any plan should create long-term value and profitable growth for all the stakeholders, with products and services that people want and value.

One plan. Most companies have multiple plans for achievement. Alan focuses on just one comprehensive plan and makes sure that everyone in the organization knows what it is and its current status.

Facts and data. Alan said: "As leaders, we really care what people think and what their opinions are, and we also really appreciate the facts and data. When we have an issue, knowing the facts and data allows us to move forward confidently to solve the issues together."

Everyone knows the plan, the status and areas that need special attention. When everyone knows the plan and status, with no secrets, we can find a solution in a timely manner.

Adopt a positive, "find-a-way" attitude. Alan would hold special attention meetings to solve challenges. He said: "Positive, find-a-way attitudes are so important as we work together to address our challenges. It is important to let the team see that having a problem is not a reflection on them personally. It is a chance for the team to work together."

Respect, listen, help, and appreciate each other. Treating each other well can only lead to a healthy and successful organization where everyone works together on solutions to an improved plan. Alan made sure every employee was part of the team. All opinions were respected.

Emotional resilience — trust the process. Few things go smoothly. You must expect the unexpected and deal with it positively. Review the vision, strategy and plan and work together as a team, making sure everyone is included.

Have fun — enjoy the journey and each other. Alan said: "(E)njoy working together with so many talented people who are dedicating their lives and talent to create and deliver their great products and services for all our stakeholders and the greater good."

Alan believes that the leaders of the future need to continue to move forward to a stakeholder-centered leadership model by "facilitating and coaching with humility, love and service."

With a philosophy like that, a leader can't help but succeed!

Mackay's Moral: A good leader inspires others with confidence in him or her. A great leader inspires them with confidence in themselves.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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