By Scott Weighart, Director of Learning and Development

Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally was recently ranked No. 3 on Fortune’s list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, trailing only Pope Francis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Alan MulallySo why are they saying that Mulally is basically the best CEO in the world today?  On his watch, there has been a dramatic swing in results: The company has gone from a pace of losing about $7 billion per year to earning that much in profit last year.  This only happened because Mulally was able to overhaul a fractious, command-and-control culture.

How did he do it?  One big change was that Mulally began conducted meetings of his senior leadership team every single week—a real rarity at a Fortune 500 company.  At these meetings, the focus was on data, candor, collaboration, and results.  At first, his team was afraid to share how things were really going—every project was color-coded green to indicate that all was well.  Finally, Mulally had to stop a meeting and say, “We’re on a pace to lose $7 billion this year.  Is there maybe anything that’s not going well?”

Eventually, that ELT came to realize that they would be applauded for bringing problems to the team’s attention… and for helping others work together to solve them.  They became a high-performing team instead of a dysfunctional group.  It all started with a leader and his intuitive understanding of executive presence and influence.

Last year, we pulled together the first-ever scientific, research-based executive presence model, based on decades of research in a variety of relevant fields.  We determined that there are three dimensions of executive presence: Style, Substance, and Character.

Style includes five facets:

  • Appearance – showing up looking and acting like you’re ready for the game
  • Intentionality – making sure the team sustains focus on getting the right things done
  • Inclusiveness – welcoming diverse points of view
  • Interactivity – stimulating frequent dialog and listening
  • Assertiveness – addressing difficult issues or conflicts, making them discussable

If you think about Mulally’s approach to weekly meetings, we see evidence of most of those facets.  By having such regular meetings focused on solving problems related to launches, Mulally revealed a high emphasis on Intentionality and Interactivity.  By talking about the elephant in the room when it came to everyone signaling that all was well when it obviously wasn’t, he showed effective Assertiveness.  And by making it safe—and even welcome—to openly share problems and solutions, there was a new spirit of Inclusiveness for the ELT.

The Style dimension is key to execution.  The facets that Mulally displays in those weekly meeting are drive successful focus, alignment, engagement, and course corrections.  Those qualities really add up—especially on the balance sheet.

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