When I think of Henry Ford, the first assembly line pops into my mind. Plus, I have this opinion that he was great with his hands, but not a book-smart guy. That’s mostly right, but there are some fascinating leadership lessons in one of his biographies.
If the Ford history interests you, then pick up Charlie Sorensen’s My Forty Years with Ford. For years, Sorensen was Ford’s left-hand man although the relationship was strained at times, especially at the end.
Always Be Learning
The CFO Bookshelf mantra is always be learning. That seemed to be the mindset at Ford early on.
The writer states Ford rarely selected employees for what they knew. Instead, their philosophy was that it was up to the workers to learn for themselves.
Proved competence in some field plus intellectual curiosity and audacity are to
meessential qualities. The trick is to detect them.
Currently, how many on your staff possess intellectual capacity? How is it revealed? How do you ascertain this trait during the interview process with new candidates?
Perhaps Ford should have written a self-help book for CEOs in the early 1900s.
Here’s a man with minimal formal schooling, yet he knew how to motivate his workers:
Ford knew when to give praise when it was due and when to make fair criticism when that was due. These are two of the strongest attributes of wise leadership, particularly when dealing with
the imaginativeand creative personalities so much needed in industry. Yet all too few men employ them; a job well done is likely to be taken for granted.
I’m biased in that I believe us analytical types (most of us are) tend to unwittingly go easy on the kudos and compliments for a job well done for those who work for us.. Ford got it right. He didn’t need Lencioni. He practiced Lencioni.
What Are Good Managers?
Ford identified these crucial traits they wanted in their managers:
- refreshing simplicity
- special technical ability
- energy and grit
- common sense
- good health
Ford noted that workers with 4-5 of these qualities were rare. Those with 6 were non-existent.
As you look at the list above, which are the most essential for your team? On average, how many traits do they possess?
On Learning from Other CEOs
My reading habits include reading at least one CEO biography or autobiography monthly as I want to be continually thinking like a CEO so that I can better support them.
I thought his book would be primarily technical and dense with historical detail–it is not. Accordingly,
There’s a downside in the book too. Leaders can change and sometimes for the worse. I was disappointed in some of Ford’s poor decisions as his company started facing competition when the Model T started falling out of favor with consumers hungry for more style and power. His relationship with his son Edsel was one we would rather not think about from some a business pioneer.
Definitely pick up the book if you are interested in reading about the startup and ramp up along with the struggles of an American business icon.