Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Company’s president & CEO, arrived at Ford from Boeing three and a half years ago. An engineer by training, he brought with him a relentless focus on numbers and systemic simplification. His motto is “Improve Focus, Simplify Operations.” As a result, Ford has reduced its number of global platforms (vehicle chassis) from 20 to 8 and slashed its number of nameplates from 97 to 25. The result has been a drastic reduction in fixed costs; last year Ford was the only U.S. car maker not in bankruptcy and its stock has surged from below $2 a share to near $12.

Such extraordinary results are
– not achieved easily
– nor by normal effort
– nor by average people
– nor by weak leaders

Mulally and his top 16 executives spend two hours a week reviewing 300 PowerPoint slides filled with facts and figures. To an outsider, such a presentation may seem mind numbing but to Mulally it is exciting. Indeed, “No one is allowed to whisper private comments to the person sitting next to him or her; Mr. Mulally insists that everyone pay close attention to each person’s presentation. ‘If you are not comfortable with that, you might be more comfortable leaving the company,’ Mr. Mulally says with a friendly but pointed tone.” (Wall Street Journal, “Ford’s Renaissance Man,” February 27, 2010.)

Mulally obviously has strong views about how to run a meeting and a company. There are those who would have chaffed at such strict rules and blunt response to a failure to comply. Perhaps Ford’s fate would not have risen or fallen upon Mulally’s “no whisper” policy, BUT I am pretty sure that Ford would not have survived without a strong leader and if everyone were not 100 percent on board, 100 percent behind the leadership from senior management on down the ranks. If that means putting up with your leader’s personality quirks or strict ideas on how to run a company, so be it. Either get on board or get going. You deserve better and so does the organization. If your heart is not in what you are doing, you should not be doing it. (Though I do recommend taking the time to do an internal process check. Is it them or is it me? Which is it that really needs to get its act together? Just like people, every organization is dysfunctional in some way. Also, the only person you can truly change is yourself. So be careful: everywhere you go, there you are, the same you as before!)

Although much has been written about the importance of leadership, good followership is actually as vital to success as good leadership. Followers can undermine leaders, even good ones, by nitpicking, passive-aggressive responses, or minute, trivial, unnecessary, or unjustified criticism or fault finding. Often the quality of execution of a decision is as important, if not more so, than the quality of the decision itself. It is in the execution of a decision that followers often can have the greatest opportunity to shine, the most significant way to contribute.

It is said that politics is the art of the possible and that applies to most forms of leadership. I know that as a leader, I feel my hands are tied a lot more than many people realize, that options often seem extremely limited, especially in the short run. My father served 18 years on our local city commission; he often said that he welcomed the election of “Young Turks” because it was the only way they could truly understand how rusty and difficult to move the levers of power truly were!

Beyond the lessons for business organizations on the need for good followers, I sometimes am concerned about the torrent of criticism, even invective and contempt we heap upon our elected leaders. Yes, some fail us, but most are doing the best they can under trying circumstances. It does not serve us, it does not make the world a better place, when we disparage our leaders repeatedly and hold them in low esteem. Such censure and denigration would not inspire anyone to greater effort nor attract the best to audition for the position.

How we perform as individuals inevitably determines how we perform as a country. Thus it behooves us all to be part of a constructive solution rather than yapping critics.

Closing Quotes:

“When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.” — Author Unknown

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings….” — Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1858-1919)

“The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals.” — Rensis Likert, American educator and organizational psychologist best known for his research on management styles (1903–1981)