Leadership and EGO: Words of Wisdom from Alan Mulally

Below is an excerpt from Eric Schurenberg’s column in the March 2015 edition of Inc. Magazine.  He is the editor.  I also think Inc. is the best source of leadership advice for entrepreneurial minded leaders.  Here is the full post.

. . . ideas alone don’t build companies.  Building takes leadership, and leadership takes continuous, counterintuitive, ego-minimizing work.  That was one lesson I took from a recent half-day meeting led by Alan Mulally, retired CEO of Ford and Boeing. . . . . “Keep reminding yourself,” he kept reminding the room, “it’s not about you.”  It’s about the plan.  The leader’s job is to ensure that the team has a compelling vision; to help everyone understand the strategy for realizing that vision; and to see that everyone is working together to implement the plan.  When teams truly need to mesh, it doesn’t matter whether you were once the world’s best coder or salesperson or idea man.  Your job is now facilitator.  Behavior matters. . . . what was allowed at Boeing and Ford: admitting problems and asking for help.  What was not: texting in meetings, finger-pointing, putdowns, or anything else that interfered with a sense of shared effort. “Working together works,” says Mulally.  “Smart people working together always works.”

In my second chapter of my book(People-Centered Performance) I talk about the OBN leader – the one who knows what they OUGHT to do, BUT they DON’T.  Mulally’s gives some practical advice for fighting the OBN trap.

The Impact of Values, and 3 Things You HAVE to do with them

I have a client who sent me a late night text showing me a picture of the executive team dressed as superheros.  I am sharing the picture because I like to celebrate when business leaders show such passion for their work, and have fun in front of and with their people – They also told me I could.  The story behind this moment is almost 18 months of trying to capture what they value as an organization, before growth challenges them with diluting what matters because nobody has taken the time to put a stake in the ground and define it.  The journey to this point is a story that would need many more words than I like to commit to my daily postings to do it justice, so I will just share the outcome of their work.  Here are their values:Worksighted Team

  • I am most comfortable dressed as a Superhero
  • I am a unique piece to the puzzle
  • I focus on today, but dream of tomorrow
  • I scoop my dog’s poop

Any company, but especially my high growth partners/clients, need to write these down, but that is only the beginning of the journey.  In Good to Great, Jim Collins shares the three things about values that he found in great companies.  In great companies, they do three things with their values:

  1. Define Them/Know what they are
  2. Build them into the organization
  3. Preserve them over time

The truth around values is this picture is part of step 1.  There is work to be done, but great companies know that celebrations have to happen to name significant steps that they have taken.  Celebrations mean FUN and showing up as people who passionately believe in the words being shared, not just leaders reading the script they were given.  This group of leaders inspires me.

What are some of the unique and inspiring values that you have seen companies share and build into their culture?

Just Add Joy – Just ask Rich Sheridan

A book that I really like right now is from Rich Sheridan, and it is called Joy, Inc.  How We Built a Workplace People Love.  Two reasons I like it.

  1. It is from a CEO/leader who built his business from scratch and he is intimately involved in his business.  99.9% of businesses in the United States are less than 500 people, and I love a leadership voice from the leader that most people can identify with.  Rich is CEO of Menlo Innovations.
  2. It reintroduces emotions into the conversation, not just theories and actions.  Joy, Love, Excitement, Jubilation – – – we need more of these things.  When our professional reputations, paychecks, support network, friends are all tied into our jobs, and 8.4 million of those jobs disappear in an economic downturn, there is a lot of anger, frustration, sadness, worry, fear, and hunger to overshadow the feelings that great cultures are built on.  Leaders cannot make other people feel better.  But here is one leaders journey to building a company around a culture.

Rich was our guest speaker at our local chamber breakfast this week, and I had the pleasure of introducing him.  I have toured his business, Menlo Innovations, several times (the give public tours to see their culture up close), we share a mentor/friend,  and I invited him to speak because my community/state needed to hear his message.

In talking with Rich, he shared one big question he gets from business owners:- “Great message Rich.  But where do I start?”  As a preview, here is what Rich says:

Try Small, Simple Experiments:  To jump-start the exploration of joy in your own workplace, surprise your team with some simple experiments. Here are a few you might consider. They won’t cost anything.

The two experiments he recommends are:

  1. Where do you sit?  If you are in an office, move out and near your people.
  2. Try a stand-up meeting for a week:  He describes a daily Menlo meeting that is quick, effective, and done standing up.

Finally, he invites everyone to visit Menlo and see the culture in person.  If you are looking for a speaker on leadership in your community that will talk about culture I recommend Rich.  He has a great story.

If you are looking for a good outing for your leadership team and you can get to Ann Arbor – I recommend going to visit to help you start your own conversation around culture.