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Leading in the 21st Century

Leading in the 21st Century

I’m sure you’ve heard the Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right!”

Many people around the world quote Henry Ford as a visionary innovator. Ford’s success was made in the 20th Century, in the industrial age. However, at the start of the 21st Century the Ford Motor Company was losing billions of dollars!

The famous American automaker was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2006.  The company was about to post the biggest annual loss in its 103-year history when Alan Mulally was appointed President and CEO and tasked to turn the organization around.

Mulally is widely seen as the person responsible for one of the most impressive corporate turnarounds in history. The Ford Motor Company has posted an annual profit every year since 2009, its stock price has rebounded, and a new corporate culture has transformed the way the organization works.

Rik Kirkland, from McKinsey’s New York office interviewed Alan Mulally late in 2013 and asked him to reflect on his leadership as President and CEO. Mulally has since retired from Ford in July 2014.

What can we learn from Mulally’s leadership experience to improve our 21st Century Leadership capacity?

  1. Mulally strongly believes that “whatever type or size of organization you are privileged to lead, whether it is a for-profit or nonprofit, it is an honor to serve. Starting from that foundation, it is important to have a compelling vision and a comprehensive plan. Positive leadership—conveying the idea that there is always a way forward—is so important, because that is what you are here for—to figure out how to move the organization forward. Critical to doing that is reinforcing the idea that everyone is included. Everyone is part of the team and everyone’s contribution is respected, so everyone should participate. When people feel accountable and included, it is more fun. It is just more rewarding to do things in a supportive environment.”
  2. Mulally recommends the creation of a “consistency of purpose” across your entire organization and the nurturing of an environment where people want to help each other succeed. It is so important to create a safe environment for people to have an honest dialogue, especially when things go wrong, that’s how problems get fixed!
  3. Mulally notes that being authentic to who you are, thinking about what you really believe in and behaving accordingly plays a huge role in successful leadership. Leaders are responsible for trying to articulate and model a set of behaviors.
  4. Mulally clearly states, “One of the biggest parts of the leader’s job is reinforcing the processes we are using to meet our goals. It is more than a way of asking, “How are we doing?” It is asking, “How are we doing against the plan? What are the areas that need special attention? And then all through the year, what is our plan to improve our performance in the following year?””
  5. Your ‘energy’ management is just as important as your time management. Mulally recommends asking yourself, “What gives me energy?” There can be many sources: your family, exercise, your spiritual well-being, adventure, holidays, meditation and so on.  Combine those that work best for you, with your work demands, into one integrated calendar so that everything is built into your lifestyle.
  6. Having a powerful vision that will remain constant is crucial. Mulally’s role in realizing Henry Ford’s vision, to have freedom of mobility has remained enduring and universal, and has evolved to meet the needs of the 21st Century. Mulally and his team use technology and innovation to deliver products and services that enable the best experience at the most fundamental level.
  7. And of course, looking ahead is critical. Mulally and his team talk about the forces in the world that are going to shape what people will value in the future.


So when it comes to 21st Century Leadership… whether you think you can, or your think you can’t, why not learn from Henry Ford and Alan Mulally and just do it!

If you would like to learn more about 21st Century Leadership why not attend ‘Leadership for the 21st Century’ Workshop. Register here. 

If you would like assistance with 21st Century Strategic Planning contact Maxine

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