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August 19, 2013 Blog 2 min read

Tom Doescher, a retired Plante Moran partner, recently emailed me an article called “Connect, Then Lead.” It states that when we evaluate leadership, we tend to look at two characteristics: how loveable leaders are (their warmth, credibility, etc.), and how strong (competent, equipped, etc.) they are. Research increasingly suggests that warmth begets influence. According to the article, “In a study of 51,836 leaders, only 27 of them were rated in the bottom quartile in terms of likability and in the top quartile in terms of overall leadership effectiveness—in other words, the chances that a manager who is strongly disliked will be considered a good leader are only about one in 2,000.”

This article reminded me of a book I read recently: American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce Hoffman. Mulally, who had turned around Boeing’s Commercial Aircraft Group, was hired by Bill Ford to do the same for Ford Motor Company. Ford realized he needed help, and even though it was his name on the building, he set his ego aside and supported Mulally fully in his transition plan. That kind of humility and commitment to doing what’s right is one hallmark of a great leader.

Job one was to change the culture. Mulally was a positive guy, so much so that people would often wonder, “Is he for real?” But people follow optimists much more readily than they do pessimists. He set a tone of transparency, genuineness, and warmth. (The guy was even prone to giving unannounced hugs—you can see where the “Is he for real?” comes from.)

Mulally instituted weekly business plan reviews where he required team members to report out whether specific metrics were in the green (good), yellow (average), or red (poor). At first, everything was in the green—until the team realized that it was okay to admit that there were weak areas, that they would work together to turn reds into yellows and, ultimately, into greens.

Mulally was also careful to hold onto the talent he inherited. He worked with them to develop a compelling vision and plan. The plan was often tweaked but did not yield to the “flavor of the month,” which had happened all too often in the past. His constant refrain—even in the hard times when people wanted to abandon the plan—was “trust the plan, and focus on executing it as a team.”

I enjoyed this book so much that I recently took it to our management team and asked them to read it—to think about whether some of the processes would fit in with Plante Moran. It’s a great read if you have any interest in leadership principles or the auto industry. Hoffman was granted unprecedented access to Ford’s top executives and top-secret company documents. He spent countless hours with Alan Mulally, Bill Ford, the Ford family, former executives, labor leaders, and company directors. I found the result to be fascinating.

What about you? Have you read Hoffman’s book? Any other leadership books you’d recommend that inspired you?