When there is a shakedown or a transition at the highest level of a major company, it is always watched with anticipation. At times there is hope and at times there is despair. In some cases, the reactions are quite varied because one doesn’t know what exactly the transition was aimed at and why certain appointments were made. It was a similar feeling among most market watchers when Alan Mulally was appointed as the CEO of Ford Motor close to a decade back.
Alan Mulally was a complete outsider and had no prior exposure in leading a major automaker. The fact that Ford was going down for many years and was at the brink of insolvency did not help the matter. There was substantial skepticism about Alan Mulally leading Ford and many had started writing off his contributions even before he had displayed his leadership or management qualities. Today, all such noise and skepticism are a thing of the past and Ford has not just managed to swing back but it has dealt a knockout punch of sorts.
The man behind Ford’s turnaround and also the one credited with Alan Mulally management style has become a guru of scripting success for major brands and the testimony to that fact was his speculated appointment as the CEO of Microsoft in 2014, which obviously did not happen.
What is Alan Mulally Management Style
You cannot really come up with a term for Alan Mulally management style. It is a mix of various styles. It is participative or democratic, assertive and situational, facilitative and transformational. In hindsight, one can also regard Alan Mulally management style as visionary. Let us look at some traits of Alan Mulally management style.
1. Never Shy Away
The first thing that’s noteworthy is Alan’s penchant to be in the situation and to face the problems. Shying away from problems, skirting around issues and trying to downplay the crisis doesn’t help. Alan accepted there were problems and he was unwilling to hide them. Ford had become infamous for not seeing the problems despite the company losing billions. Alan raised the issue and wanted the problems to be discussed openly. He also encouraged everyone to speak about the problems so solutions could be figured out. Many companies and many leaders fail to get to the root of the problem. Many leaders actually don’t want to hear the problems and only expect designated people to solve the issues without the head honcho even being in the loop. It isn’t the job of the CEO, so believe many top executives. Alan is a pleasant contrast to such hackneyed and blindsided approaches.
Alan practices democratic or participative leadership. He established the fact that he was the boss at Ford but he did not want to be an autocrat or authoritarian. He did not get others to just fall in line when they weren’t in line. He instead encouraged others to speak up so he could know what the issues were that compelled them to be out of line. The participation of all teams and every team member, including the last man and woman standing, worked like magic at Ford.
Alan is an optimist or at least he instills optimism in others. His leadership is assertive. Even when he dealt with some seemingly insurmountable problems, he did not lose hope and his infectious optimism influenced others around him. One of the first instances of optimism was displayed when after soon taking charge Alan spoke with other senior management personnel and addressed the staff of Ford and reminded them how great a company it was, what kind of legacy it had and what it could do for the world and for themselves if things could be turned around. Alan used history, legacy, present predicaments and optimism to instill confidence in a workforce that was not just lagging behind but was rather stressed and lacked motivation.
4. An Outsider
Alan Mulally was an outsider. He was almost parachuted into the office of CEO of Ford. One would think that an outsider will want to change the world of the insiders. But Alan did exactly the opposite. He started to promote and encourage people working in the company for years. He looked for in-house talent and nurtured it. Many head honchos get parachuted and then they get rid of the executive team, senior management and even influence alterations in the board. Alan did no such thing. He worked with the very team that had steered the company into near abyss.
5. Hands On Leader
Alan was also a hands-on leader. His management style was engaging and personal. He did not believe in steering a ship via a remote. He was right there in the midst of all the frantic development and in the thick of things. From knowing major dealers by their names to personally working with everyone that mattered in the company and in their global network, Alan Mulally management style focused on how to get things done and without rocking the boat.