One of my favorite business books doubles up as a leadership manual on getting a large, but failing business to pull together until success finally arrives, but not without hardship and economic headwinds. Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford, might still be a relatively unknown business icon had Bryce Hoffman not written about him in his best-selling book, American Icon. Bryce is also the author of Red Teaming.
I’ve watched numerous interviews of Alan Mulally over the past few years. My first observation is that this guy seems humble, something you can’t continually fake.
He’s very humble. He’s a person you would love to be around. That does not mean he does not have an ego. What it means is that Alan Mulally has done something that’s very difficult for people to do. He’s learned to step on his ego to keep it in check because he recognized that doing so makes him a more effective leader which makes him a more powerful leader. And, and it’s something that I think is intentional and requires effort.Bryce Hoffman on Alan Mulally’s humility.
Who is Bryce Hoffmann?
- Long-time newspaper reporter
- Covered tech industry in California
- Then moved to Detroit to cover Ford (only)
- Arrived on the scene before Mulally was hired
- Started interviews, research, and writing American Icon in 2010
Bryce Understands Why American Icon is Considered a Leadership Book
- Mulally used the coach vs the king model
- Same working together model Mulally used to save Boeing
- Bill Ford’s leadership is seen in his humility to step aside from his business and let an outsider turn the business around
What Stands Out the Most in Mulally’s Ability to Lead?
- His ability to keep his ego in check
- The focus was on the leadership team, not a king-like leader
- He was incredibly charismatic
- He introduced the BPR process (business process review)
Every Thursday morning for two hours, all of the senior leaders of Ford gathered on the top of the top floor of Ford’s world headquarters in the Thunderbird Room. In the space of two hours, they went through all of the aspects of the company’s global operations. They did it at lightning speed as they identified problems and found solutions.Bryce Hoffman on Mulally’s BPR process.
Working Together Met Focusing on Suppliers Too
- Ford was rated the worst automaker by suppliers when Mulally took over as CEO
- Turning around the purchasing department took two years
- Decision was made to sign long-term contracts, quit pitting vendors against other vendors, and no more shaving pennies off parts – but continuous improvement was expected
The Most Heroic Decision in Business History
- Occurred when Mulally told the government Ford wouldn’t take their money regardless of the amount
- In the midst of the Great Recession, there was enough money in the bank for six months.
- Mulally believed Ford created the problem they were facing
We created these problems ourselves. We need to show the American people that we are not just like GM and Chrysler–dinosaurs stumbling towards extinction.
We’re going to fix them ourselves. And the best way that we can communicate that to the people in the United States and people around the world is to tell Uncle Sam, “Thank you,” but we’ve got this ourselves.Bryce Hoffman on paraphrasing the words of Alan Mulally to members of the U.S. Congress.
Life After American Icon for a Gifted Writer
- After the book was released, CEOs invited Bryce to speak to their leadership groups on the big ideas from his book
- That led to some of these businesses asking Bryce to help implement the concepts from American Icon
- This led to consulting work
- Bryce preferred teaching people how to arrive at their own solutions instead of implementing them
- This work culminated in attending red team training by one of the branches of the military
- Bryce the wrote Red Teaming
The Cynefin Framework
- Created by David Snowden
- Snowden developed while working at IBM
- Know the types of problems you are dealing with so you know how to address them effectively
- Developed by Dr. Gary Klein
- One of the top cognitive scientists in the country
- When people make a plan, they focus on the success of the project instead of failure
Let’s look at our crystal ball and see what that failure looks like. But more importantly, let’s see what the steps are that led that failure in the first place. Then we can modify the plan before we execute it to to decrease the likelihood of those things occurring. If we can’t decrease the likelihood of those things occurring, what we can do to mitigate actions right now such as contingency plans.Bryce Hoffman on premortems, of of the many tools of red team thinking.