Leadership Tips from a Business Superstar

By Judith M. Guido

So much is said and written about leadership, and yet so much is still unknown or misunderstood. I am truly fortunate to be a member of a community of thought leaders who meet regularly with some of the brightest business minds in the world. One such recent meeting was with Alan Mullaly, the former president and CEO of the Ford Motor Company and Boeing Commercial Airplanes. His success in leading and turning around both companies are the subject of several books, articles and interviews.
Alan, an aerospace engineer, shared with us how his love of aeronautics and art got him into Boeing. However, it was ultimately his love of people and people-focused leadership that allowed him to follow his purpose and passion, which propelled him into the CEO seat at two iconic American companies. He stressed that a disciplined process and principles were the keys to working successfully together with people, saying that it is important to cultivate emotional resilience and trust the process.
A humble and family-oriented man, he shared his views of what made a leader successful. His words were simple and profound, and not surprisingly, he stressed the importance of people. He said it is important to always put people first and love them up—not the words you would expect to hear from a CEO of a multi-billion global corporation. He emphasized the need to include everyone’s views and advice, and the facts and data on which their conclusions are based. This is how you create value for all stakeholders—making certain everyone’s input is included so that everyone is committed to the plan.
From his experience, creating an environment where people felt safe was paramount. To accomplish this, he respected, listened to, helped, and appreciated everyone —core values that were never compromised. He also made a point of emphasizing the importance of having fun, but never making a joke at anyone’s expense.
Mullaly then talked about how critical it was to have a clear and compelling vision that was simple to communicate to and be understood by all, along with a unique and comprehensive strategy and plan, and what he referred to as relentless implementation—getting it done. His disciplined process included weekly meetings to ensure that everyone knew the plan, its progress, and the areas that needed special attention. He used a simple red, yellow, and green color-coded system to denote the status of every project. Green was good, yellow indicated mediocrity and support needed, and red was a bottleneck that needed special attention. The company vision and strategy were reviewed at every weekly meeting, and he said he could not emphasize the importance of doing this enough.
He ended our time together by talking about how important the concept of work-life balance was and how intertwined they are. He checks to see if he is “in-balance” by looking at his calendar. If the things that are important to him in his personal and professional life are on his calendar, he is balanced, if not he makes the appropriate adjustments. Finally, he suggested we lead with humility, love, service, and respect for the dignity of everyone.