Unlocking Your Leadership Puzzle: Celebrate Your Distinctive Role and Create a Powerful Legacy

If you have ever belonged to an organization holding on for dear life, you know what the atmosphere was like in Alan Mulally’s first meeting as president and CEO of the Ford Motor Company.

Mulally had taken over in September 2006. The organization had one of the most legendary names in American industry, but its stock price had fallen nearly $10 in the few years prior. Ford was headed toward its largest-ever annual loss – $12.7 billion – and was not expected to profit again for the next two years. Needless to say, things were dire, and the pressure on Mulally was high.

In the meeting, the air must have been abuzz with anticipation. Some in the audience were likely hopeful. Others were probably more skeptical – others, like the man who brazenly asked of the organization’s new CEO, “How are you going to tackle something as complex and unfamiliar as the auto business when we are in such tough financial shape?”

Without skipping a beat, Mulally answered,

“An automobile has about 10,000 moving parts, right? An airplane has two million, and it has to stay up in the air.”

His words referred to his background at Boeing, an organization he had guided back to its top sales position among large airliners. But they said so much more than that, as well. They spoke to his vision for the organization’s future: to see the many team members at Ford work as one.

Mulally’s approach did not just aim to target the dollars and cents of Ford’s problem, but the dynamics at the heart of it as well. Teams were territorial. People were possessive and defensive. And these things were costing the organization in innovation, engagement, morale – and many other immeasurable ways. Mullaly sought to put an end to that.

His plan to revive the automotive giant was called “One Ford.” In this new atmosphere, the division that had kept teams from working at their best would give way to unity… 10,000 moving parts making up one Ford. Among other new leadership initiatives, “One Ford” helped Alan Mulally shock the financial world when Ford turned a $750 million profit in the second quarter of 2007.

Mulally’s transformational leadership was foundational to Ford’s success. And as leaders look to his story for inspiration, we find three practical strategies we can adopt:

1. Create and communicate a clear, unifying vision.

Mulally’s “One Ford” plan reminded each team member that they were contributing to something bigger than themselves – and that vision not only motivated team members, but provided a much-needed morale boost.

Leaders can do the same for their teams by developing a clear and compelling vision for their organization and conveying it consistently in all kinds of communication.

2. Foster a culture of transparency and collaboration.

In pursuit of “One Ford,” Mulally arranged regular meetings in which executives were invited to share their input and explain problems they saw plaguing their departments. Mulally showed them they could do this without concern for retribution, promoting an open and honest company culture.

Leaders can do the same with their teams – not only to improve morale and trust, but also to gain valuable insight from their team members’ various perspectives. Ensure your team knows you value their perspective. Invite different departments to work together to share perspectives, and celebrate the achievements resulting from collaboration.

3. Lead by example and demonstrate integrity.

Mulally did more than talk about his vision. It was not just something that he cast before others. Neither can any leader’s be if their aim is transformational leadership. The most effective leadership happens by example and with integrity. 

When Alan Mulally stepped down as CEO of Ford on July 1, 2014, the organization had been saved. 2009 saw the automotive giant profiting $2.7 billion and by 2012, their corporate bonds were worth investing in again – a sign of good things to come.

And not only that – Mulally had also created an example for leaders to follow everywhere when they are hoping to transform their teams in crisis.

That’s all for now. 🙂

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