Every leader has to start somewhere. This is just the fact of the matter. And, another fact? Not every leader, even some of the greatest leaders of our time, start off with flying colours.
Take my good friend Alan Mulally, former chief executive officer (CEO) of Ford Motor Company. Mulally led the epic turnaround of Ford. This incredible story is told in the Wall Street Journal bestseller, American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company. I highly recommend you read it if you want to learn about great leadership – and enjoy a thrilling page turner while you are at it!
Mulally’s story at Ford is a success story, but it wasn’t always that way for him on his leadership journey.
A misstep in leadership
Mulally started out as an engineer at Boeing. Quickly promoted to a management position, his first employee quit! A bit disgruntled, the employee shared with Mulally honestly that he felt Mulally’s job was to help him to do his job, not to keep redoing all of his work and show him all of his mistakes.
Mulally took this feedback to heart and realised he was acting out Habit #2 (Adding too much value) and Habit #6 (Telling the world how smart we are) from my book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. This was long before I met Mulally or before the book was published, so I can claim no credit (Habit #11: Claiming credit that we don’t deserve)!
Wanting to learn from this experience, Mulally delved into learning about management and leadership and started to understand how to be a better leader. And, he learnt this valuable lesson – that leadership isn’t about telling people how to do their jobs well or doing their jobs for them; leadership is about helping people to do their jobs well. It’s about working together.
Over the years at Boeing, Mulally kept asking for more responsibilities – and he kept getting it, finally leaving the company as the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Cut to 2006 and he was asked to lead Ford out of a deep hole, which he did, employing his unique method of facilitative leadership which he calls “working together.”
By the end of his time at Ford as president and CEO, the company’s stock price was up, the board and the employees were happy, and Mulally was named number three on Fortune’s “World’s Greatest Leaders” list in 2013.
Mulally is a true example of the phrase, “every leader has to start somewhere.” He didn’t start out as a great leader; he became a great leader.
Food for thought
On a more personal note, over the many years I have known him, I have never seen him get down on himself, his people, or his company. He has an enthusiasm that radiates to the people around him. He has an almost childlike joy in what he does.
He once told me:
“Every day I remind myself that leadership is not about me. It is about the great people who are working with me.”
That’s how he leads, and it is this example he sets that says more about great leadership than his words can ever convey.