The Person You Want to Be – Part 2: Alan Mulally – CEO of Ford Motor Company


If part 1 of The Person You Want to Be had a theme, it was servant leadership. Ray Conner modeled the traits of a servant leader as well as anyone I’ve studied. And his successes prove that serving others, having compassion for those in your care, and working hard to provide each of them an opportunity to grow can help a leader climb to the top of even the largest organizations.

Part 2 is an epic turn-around story. And at the center of the story is the theme for today’s Simple Advice: Positive leadership. Alan Mulally led Ford Motor Company through what many analysts call the most impressive turn around in business history. And he did it in the middle of the worst economy since the Great Depression. How? With laser focus and clarity, and with a positivity that was contagious.

Alan Mulally was well-known for leading the turn-around at Boeing in the early 2000s. It’s what put him at the top of the list when Ford was looking for the right leader to do the same thing. When Ford brought Mulally in as the new CEO, the company was losing billions of dollars a year. Most people close to the situation, both inside and outside the organization, felt like he was the only option, and the last hope the Ford family had to save the company and their legacy as an American icon.

To make a 400 page story very short, Mulally was hired and given the reigns along with the full support of the board of directors and the Ford family. Basically the message was “you did it at Boeing, do it here too please”.

And he did it.

Full turn around in 3 years.

From losing billions of dollars a year (I believe the low point was $13Billion in one year) to a nearly $3Billion profit.

In 3 years.

Thousands of employees, a team of leaders entrenched in old habits, and a failing company with all the world’s eyes looking in on every financial detail.

And one shot to get it right.

Let that all sink in, and then add in the mix that he did this as the country and the automotive industry entered the worst economy since the Great Depression. Sales of new cars dropped off the face of the earth. Consumer confidence was at rock bottom. And he led the leadership and team members at Ford through it all with a positivity that had to be inspiring to everyone around him. It was for me, just following the story.

The simple advice extracted from this story is that a positive leadership style can help you lead your organization through change, uncertainty, or sheer chaos. For Mulally, there were a few things he brought to the table that helped him lead Ford through this tough time…

a clear vision,

a detailed plan,

a very necessary and effective meeting rhythm,

and the focus to stick to it all, no matter what was thrown at him,

…but positivity is what held it together. And that’s key for any new leader as you guide your team through a tough situation.

The other thing he did well that was sort of glossed over in the book was something that I also believe is crucial during times of change. He remained visible and accessible to the people. Times were tough for shareholders and the Ford family, but they were even tougher for the working class employees of Ford. There were layoffs and union negotiations and major restructuring. Ford dropped everything from the automobile lineup but Ford and Lincoln, cutting entire divisions and closing entire facilities. But he remained accessible and was never too important or too busy to talk to the people who continued to work hard for him through the changes. And that takes an entirely different level of positivity and courage.

I recommend the book (click the link above), because my little short story here doesn’t do it justice, but there’s enough here to lean on in times of change, as you lead your team with positivity and clarity that will help them want to follow you.



The Person You Want to Be – Part 1: Ray Conner – Boeing Vice Chairman

servant leader.jpeg

Having over 20 years of leadership experience, I love to tell stories of my success and the successes of those who have impacted me. But when I reflect on those stories, there is always conflict. And it’s the conflict that makes a good story great.

Today’s Simple Advice is Part 1 of 2. The theme of these two stories is to focus on being the person/leader you want to be, and that will lead you to the work you want to do. The conflict faced by the leaders in these two stories tested them to the core, and presented challenges that would break anyone without the fierce focus on exactly what kind of leader each one wanted to be. Enjoy.

Ray Conner – Vice Chairman of Boeing

A light bulb went off while I was listening to an interview with Boeing Vice Chairman Ray Conner recently. He told the story of his journey from the shop floor to the top office and what factors he believes contributed to his success.

He credits having a sharp focus on the kind of person he wanted to be, and letting that lead to whatever kind of work he ended up doing. The kind of person he knew he wanted to be from day one was a servant leader. He focused everything on being that kind of person and it led to upward moves, one after another, throughout the organization.

He literally went from working on airplanes as a mechanic for Boeing to holding one of the top offices in the entire organization (a $100 billion company).

In hearing Conner tell his story, the real light bulb for me was from a specific point in his journey, overcoming a massive point of conflict. He had to lead his company through some very tough negotiations with suppliers and unions, and either outcome was going to hurt the company and its people. The company had to restructure its pension plan and agreements with the workers’ unions, or move jobs oversees.

Conflict reveals a leader’s true character. Conner says this about his focus through that conflict:

“I wanted the keep the jobs here, in Seattle. That was the most important thing. That was the best outcome for everyone. I knew it was going to be tough. I even got emails from people saying they hoped I died of cancer. I answered every email personally, with the answer I believed was the best solution for everyone.”

A leader who doesn’t value serving others isn’t going to sit there until all hours of the night and on weekends and answer emails from people wishing him death.

But he never changed his approach, and stayed true to the person he wanted to be from the very start. And he credits his entire success to that fact, all the way through his story.

Conner’s story appeals to me because my journey mirrors his in so many ways. I started my financial career on the teller line at a bank while I was in college and ultimately worked my way up to senior management before going into consulting. In my current roles, I am near or at the top of the organizations and my focus continues to be “what can I do to help others succeed?”.

But even before this story played out professionally, I found early on that I tended to elevate to leadership roles in most groups or organizations I joined.

In high school, I was voted into a group called Teens Need Teens. The school administration polled the entire school basically asking “who you go to if you need to lean on someone?”, and “who has helped you most while you’ve been at Parkview?”. I was one of the eight students appointed to that group, one of two sophomores and the other six were seniors.

In sports, I excelled and was typically one of the team captains, but it wasn’t because I was a good player, it was because I was focused on helping the younger team members develop and feel like they were a part of the team.

But professionally, my story took it’s biggest positive turn shortly after the single largest conflict I had ever faced. Those who know my story know I lost a job in right in the middle of the financial crisis and economic downturn almost a decade ago. But just like Ray Conner, I focused intently on serving others during that time, placing that before “I need to get a job”.

As a result of that focus, my consulting business was born, along with a mentoring ministry that ultimately led to bringing The Mentoring Project to Memphis and launching Virtue Quest Mentoring through a joint effort with Heartsong Church and the Memphis Grizzlies. Had I focused on anything else other than serving others during that time, none of this would have happened. I can’t even stand to think “what if”.

I hope the story of Ray Conner (listen to the interview here) mixed in with some of my story can help you as you begin or further your leadership journey. Through the good times and the conflicts, have a laser sharp focus on the kind of person you want to be, and let that lead you as you influence those in your care. Stay tuned for part 2, the story of Alan Mulally and his masterful leadership at Ford.



4 Leadership Principles that Really Work



From Kevin: This is the first guest post I’ve done on Simple Advice for the New Leader. I have written a lot about how a great leader is always learning. The coaches and mentors at Building Champions are a solid source for me as I continue to learn and grow, and this post from one of their coaches caught my attention, mostly for its simple but solid message. I also happen to agree with his thoughts on Ryan Holiday’s article. Enjoy and let me know your thoughts.

From Jerry Baker:

We receive so many messages through email, text messaging and social media that it can be overwhelming — but some of them are really good.

For instance, someone recently forwarded me an article by Ryan Holiday (author of books such as “Ego is the Enemy and “The Obstacle Is the Way”). It was called “38 Leadership Principles for The Greatest Business, Military, Political and Sports Leaders.” It’s a good read, and I recommend checking out the whole piece when you have time.

All 38 of the principles Holiday shared are great, but a few of them really resonated with me. Here are those that I’d like to emphasize from many years as a coach and leader.

A Leader is a Learner

A leader should always be pushing to learn more about their job, their company, their industry and other topics to improve their leadership and results.

Back in my twenties, I worked for an aircraft company, and I got interested in building aircraft out of titanium. It was then a new, exotic metal, and I discovered a wealth of information about fabricating and assembling an aircraft from titanium at the Battelle Memorial Institute. That knowledge elevated me in the company. I’ve continued to practice the strategy of continuous learning all my career, even now.

I urge you to keep current and expose yourself to out-of-the-box, uncommon and new ideas. They may help set you apart in your career.

A Leader Does the Right Thing, Even if it Holds Them Back

As a leader, sometimes doing what’s right can hurt — but that shouldn’t keep you from taking the high road.

Many years ago, U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. spoke to a gathering of our management and corporate teams, and he shared two main principles that have stuck with me: always do what’s right, and keep moving forward.

I’ve done my best to stay true to those two principles because like General Schwarzkopf and many leaders, I believe that integrity is critical.

How can people follow you if they can’t trust what you say is honest and consistent with how you go about your job?  And, if you don’t do what you say you will do, why should anyone follow?

A Leader is Humble

A leader recognizes that they get things done with and through others.

When you listen to others on your team, they will learn to trust you. I see far too much ego in some leaders; they make everything about them rather than about the team.

Real success is achieved by helping others get what they want in work and life. Set your ego aside and achieve better results by leading others to reach a common goal.

A Leader Thinks Long-Term

As a leader, you must keep one eye on the present, on what matters now. But you also need to focus the other eye on what’s next, and what will help get you there.

This probably means you need to get better at delegating, and at creating room in your day and on your calendar, so that you can spend time thinking long-term. Where are you headed, what will it take to get you there and what adjustments or changes are required? Thinking ahead more will help you get there.

What This Means For You

Those aren’t the only principles that a leader should follow, but following them will undoubtedly make you a better leader. I hope this list showed you where your leadership is thriving and where you’d like to improve.

4 Things Your Followers Need From You


One of the toughest things for a new leader to do is cross over from doing to leading. In most organizational environments, a new leader gets the opportunity through producing results as a doer. So, you have excelled at getting results, and now you’re in a role where you have to get results through others. Welcome to leadership.

To help you make the most of your opportunity, this post should serve as a resource to come back to over and over, in order to keep the needs of your team/followers in front of you. To effectively lead others, you have to be good at a number of things that may not come naturally, but are still important. Leading with a servant mentality is one of them. And to do servant leadership well, you have to know what those you serve need from you. Here are the main four needs I’ve experienced over 20 years of leadership, mostly through feedback from those who follow me:

TRUST: firm belief in the reliability, truth or strength of someone

Everyone, no matter who they are, needs to know their leader trusts them. Trust is the foundation for any relationship, and it’s crucial to your success as a leader that you be both trusting and trustworthy. So yes, it goes both ways. If you have trouble trusting anyone on your team, before you do anything else you need to dig into why. If they’ve betrayed your trust in the past, then you need to be getting them off your team or working together with them to rebuild it. Once you’ve decided to trust those you lead, you’ll find that you either strengthen or weaken that trust in how you handle problem situations. Here’s how to ensure you always strengthen trust in these times:

1) Give them the benefit of the doubt first, and…

2) As you’re exploring what went wrong, seek to understand everyone involved (this is a challenge because it forces us to listen!) and always get all the facts before you take action

Final piece of advice in this area, if you are taking corrective action, do it in a way that develops their thinking and improves their decision making. Because to be an effective leader, you do need people making decisions, you can’t make them all. And I promise you this, if you second guess every decision they make, they will stop making decisions! That is a fact.

CLARITY: the quality of being certain or definite

Clarity is important in two key areas. People who work for you want clear direction on what is expected of them, both in their work and their behavior. You handle the behavior through Core Values, and you handle the direction through a solid job description (ask me about position agreements) and regular communication.

Most people also want clarity on their path to growth within the company. This one is tougher because you can’t always know what the future may hold and what opportunities may arise. I tend to handle this one in line with some great advice I received from Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast years ago.

1) At the beginning of your time with someone as their leader, get a clear understanding of their goals for growth. Do they want to excel in a specific area or get experience across the entire organization? Know what they are hoping to accomplish, so you can be part of helping them move in that direction.

2) About once quarterly, as you are discussing performance in their current role, give them feedback on how that performance is helping or hurting their effort toward hitting their growth goals.

3) When opportunities arise within the organization, be their advocate, even if it means they would be moving out of your area and you’ll have to hire/train someone else. If you can’t advocate for them, they should already know why before the chance comes up (your quarterly conversations). If they don’t get the role, they will know that you did all you could on their behalf. Help them understand why a different decision was made so they can learn from that experience.

Final thought on clarity: everyone hates change, and few people lead well through it. But change is constant so when leading through change, clarity is key. Ask your followers if you are being clear enough in direction and development and don’t get off the conversation until they say “yes”.

ACCOUNTABILITY: the condition of being responsible

All high-performance people want to be held accountable. If someone on your team isn’t performing at a high level, it’s your fault. Go back to clarity to get them moving in the right direction, and if they can’t improve, help them find another opportunity elsewhere. Spend the majority of your time and energy on the people you can hold accountable and who will allow you to grow and shape them to hit the goals they gave you on the front end.

If you inherited a team from another leader, you first need to earn their respect and trust (stay tuned for a future post on this) by building the relationship. As you’re doing that, review what goals each team member has, and what work they’re being held accountable for, and establish a meeting rhythm with each one to lay the foundation for accountability. Take time to learn how you need to lead each person differently toward the same goal.

POSITIVITY: the presence of being optimistic in attitude

Let’s talk about the power of positivity vs. negativity. FACT: it’s just easier to be negative. People who default to negativity are basically being lazy. Even the best leaders have to admit though, that it’s hard not to go to negative first when something’s not going according to plan. What’s hard is developing the ability to quickly pull yourself out of negative and go to positive. The best tip I got on how to deal with this actually came from a book by Rob Bell called Drops Like Stars. It’s a spiritual book intended to help people approach pain and suffering differently after a significant loss. But something he said helped me apply it to this area of my leadership. Basically, things are going to go wrong. Change is constant, people fall short, goals are missed. Transition your thinking from “why did this happen” to “what’s next”.

“What next” forces you into a forward-thinking mindset, and it’s more difficult to be negative if you’re thinking about how to get better moving forward. I believe this is where great leaders separate themselves from the pack. Because as we mentioned above, negativity is easy and most people will camp out here by dwelling in the past. Don’t be like most people. Move forward, stay positive. Your followers will love you for it.

Final thought on positivity: if you tend to be a positive person, those around you who are mostly negative may accuse you of puking rainbows. Don’t let that get in your head. Positive leadership is so many times more effective than dictator-style leadership (dwelling on the negative). Followers of positive leaders are loyal and bought in. Followers of dictators work just hard enough not to get fired, and will leave as soon as something else is available.

That’s my list of four. You’ll find other things your specific team members need from you, but I believe this list above is a great start no matter who you lead.


Take Time to Disconnect


I’ve heard it said many times a leader has to always be “on”. From my experience, that is mostly true. You do have to be on your game when leading and inspiring others. But I don’t believe it’s sustainable to be on at your highest level consistently without taking a very intentional break occasionally.


Leadership is mentally exhausting. And mental exhaustion leads to physical exhaustion (funny how our minds can convince our bodies that we’re waxed). Both kinds of exhaustion keep us from performing at our peak.

Just like an athlete fuels up after a demanding performance, a leader needs to refuel the mind to be ready for the next “game”. Because it will be the mind that needs to be at peak performance to deliver the results needed for success in leadership. If our minds are not focused and fueled up, we won’t have the mental toughness needed to get through the demanding seasons and challenges of leading people, teams and organizations. We’ll feel more like quitting than grinding it out.

Side note: not only is it wise to unplug and refresh, its part of our stewardship to those we lead. Great leaders help everyone we lead see a path to greater success, and if we’re not at the top of our game, we’re actually letting them down by not giving them our best. So do yourself and your team a favor and take a break.

What do I mean by “break”?

I just had a long conversation with someone I know professionally who is going through a very difficult time in his life. At one point in this struggle, a mentor of his advised him to get away from his daily routine so he could think clearly. He took his dog and a little bit of work, and went to stay with a friend for a week. Now, if we stop right here, this could go one of two directions. It could turn into a week of escaping responsibilities and getting nothing done, or it could be just what is needed to refocus. The difference…his daily routine during this “retreat”.

He started the morning with a physical workout. Running, walking, swimming, anything to get the body warmed up for the day. He ate a solid breakfast then spent the rest of each morning writing down goals for the next month, quarter and year and journaling what it would take from him to accomplish each of them (time, resources, information, support from family/friends, etc).

After a light lunch he spent each afternoon touching base with the office and getting work done. What I find fascinating is even in taking his mornings off the grid to reflect and focus, he accomplished more each afternoon than he would traditionally in a full day.

It turns out that when we don’t intentionally refresh/focus, when we are just going through the motions, we waste a significant amount of energy on unproductive stuff like that little iDevice in our hands, email/social media, or other distractions that aren’t really all that important.

Each evening, he spent time in the company of friends who listened to his thoughts, plans and goals, and who agreed to help him remain accountable to them after he left. He said “by the end of the week I was completely refreshed and re-energized, I was a productivity machine”.

No matter how long you’ve been a leader, you can always learn something from the stories of others. So today, I learn along side you.

Getting away and breaking the routine helps you…

-Clear your mind

-Focus on your goals

-Make decisions with clarity

-Have greater productivity

-Be more present with those around you once you get back at it

But don’t get hung up on the fact that my friend took a week to get away. Even if you can’t find an entire week, don’t let that stop you from doing something. In researching the idea of an “off-site” I find that many career/executive coaches recommend this at least once a year. But just as you would in leading a team in an off-site, the key is removing the distractions, otherwise the entire experience becomes a frustration instead of a refresher.

dirt road.jpeg

So, get off the grid for long enough to clear your mind and focus on the goals in front of you…

Take a long drive,

get away for a day, whatever,

but do it unplugged!

Spend the time intentionally, away from your daily routine, and come back refreshed and ready to get back in the grind. Everyone around you will be better for it.