In It Together
Nothing significant gets accomplished in isolation.
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“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” — Abraham Lincoln, 1858
I recall a scene in the mid 1990s just after leaving Boston University: David Letterman brought The Late Show to BU, and picked out a student to become Big Man on Campus.
He randomly chose Michael Hirsch from the Freshman Record (a literal facebook of enrolled students), whose interests were listed as “Business and People.”
Dave had a field day with that, remarking,
“That’s a one-two punch. I mean, think about this: if you’re interested in business but not in people, well then you’re screwed.”
And yet, how many times have you encountered a situation, either as an employee or as a customer, where things don’t feel people-centric?
We have to make a big deal out of human-centered efforts, because they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
In our lust for technology and data, we seem to have forgotten that humans are thriving behind each email address, each Twitter account, and each profile. People matter.
Look What I Have Created
In ancient Greek mythology, Zeus was the tyrannical king of the gods—a real control freak. He had things arranged just the way he wanted. Under his rule, the younger Olympian gods defeated the elder Titans, and Zeus ruled with an iron fist.
But Prometheus, one of the second generation of Titans, saw things differently. He is credited as the creator of humankind. Or at least with sharing secrets of the gods with humans.
In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, we find him chained to a rock, sentenced to eternal torment as an eagle eats his liver. Overnight, his liver grows back, and the eagle returns the next day, in a perpetual Groundhog Day of a sentence.
When asked why he was being punished, he said,
“I gave humans hope, so they may be optimistic, and taught them the secrets of fire, from which they may learn many crafts and arts (technai).”
How fascinating that, in his desire to create collaboration between mortals and immortals, he used technology to make it happen!
While we understand this to be a myth, to this very day, we still honor those origins of hope, optimism, and technology with a torch race that heralds the beginning of the Olympic games.
Thanks to Prometheus’ subversiveness, we have a stark reminder of the importance of people in how we lead.
In his book Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism, Tom Peters has a whole section called “People First.”
And it’s no coincidence that the first tenet of Alan Mullally’s Working Together Management System™ stresses “people first.”
The mistake most leaders make—particularly when trying to execute a major transformation—is they focus on technology, metrics, and tracking.
“Our success as an organization will ultimately be determined by our ability to work together as a team…to make the strategy succeed.” — Alan Mulally, 2020
When he arrived at Ford, Alan used the WTMS principles in weekly meetings with his executive team, introducing them to the business plan review (BPR) every Thursday.
The executives responsible for Alan’s transition into Ford were prepared for the usual bloodletting as the CEO would eliminate dead wood and bring in his own preferred team. But Alan quickly disabused them of the notion.
The beauty of the Working Together Management System was that they could put their trust in the process.
Bryce Hoffman recreates the scene in American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company:
“Alan, if the board offers you this job and you take it, you need to understand that there are no sacred cows,” [board member Irv] Hockaday told Mulally. “Any friends of Bill [Ford] that are in the wrong positions or you conclude are not the right guys, you can get rid of them—and Bill will confirm that.”
Mulally shook his head.
“That’s not an issue, because I'm not going to have to get rid of many people,” he replied.
Mulally’s response was a little worrisome to Hockaday and [board member John] Thornton. They believed the time had come for a little bloodletting at the top of the house in Dearborn. It was concern about the weakness of Ford’s bench that had prompted them to look outside the company for a CEO in the first place.
“How do you come to that conclusion?” Hockaday asked.
Mulally responded by outlining his system of weekly meetings for them, just as he had for Ford. He told them this approach enforced extreme accountability on a weekly basis and left no hiding place for anyone who was not entirely committed to executing his part of the business plan.
“It’s likely that a lot of people at Ford aren’t used to that, and they will self-select out,” Mulally said. “And I won’t have to do it.”
And just like Prometheus, the BPR meetings were like giving fire to the executives. While they were a little skittish at first, they gradually warmed to them and the self-selection process worked as expected.
In particular, there were a couple of executives who didn’t seem to be team players and harbored a pessimistic attitude. This was anathema to what Alan needed in pulling everyone together.
But there were three specific elements to the BPR meetings that ensured the changing culture under Alan’s leadership: enforced accountability, a spirit of cooperation, and relentless execution.
Together with the other principles and practices, these behaviors, while sounding simple, are woven together through the complexity of an organization and its people to ensure working together works.
For all the people involved.
The next guest on the Timeless Leadership podcast is none other than Alan Mulally. He helped turn around an American and global icon in his work as an executive at Boeing before being tapped to become the CEO of Ford Motor Company in 2006.
We talked about Collaboration — specifically about Alan’s Working Together Management System.
Be sure to follow on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.