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“You can’t manage a secret” and other lessons gleaned from American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company

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american-iconDo you ever run across a book or blog that grabs you by the scruff and shakes you up? Something that influences how you communicate or lead? I ran across just this sort of thing two years ago with the book American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I’m an Alan Mulally super fan-boy. As a gear-head I am fascinated with all things that make noise and burn fuel, and Ford is a company is close-to-home. My father worked at the now-closed Talbotville assembly plant for nearly 40 years, and at a Ford corporate event in 2007 we were able to meet Mulally. I was struck by his warmth and outgoing demeanor. Mulally spent a good deal of time chatting with us and learning about my father’s long career with the company. He even took the time to take a picture and thank my father for decades of service – something that left my usually placid Dad beaming with pride. All this said, I was already sold on the book and the man who helped turn it around.

American Icon blew me away. I continue to share lessons gleaned and use Mulally to illustrate leadership and communications techniques with anyone who will listen. Two topics that permeate the book are: leading teams and managing complex projects (timely given the topic of our March PD event).

Key to Ford’s turnaround was culture change and the need for openness and honesty in team meetings. To help, Mulally implemented the now-famous Business Plan Review (BPR) meetings where all senior leaders attended, presented – and it’s where honesty flourished. In interviews, Mulally stated that these meetings set the stage for transparency and that “you can’t manage a secret”. This hit me. You can map, strategize, think-tank, design as much as you want, but if you are not basing your strategy on the truth, all will be for not. American Icon describes the process of evolving Ford’s culture to one where honesty is rewarded and is at the core of management and the company itself.

You don’t need 10w-30 coursing through your veins to enjoy this book. It is truly a fascinating look at leadership, project management; moreover, it is a story of extreme change in a company we all know and that I love. Check out this great interview with a little more from Mulally – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4aatqMxFnE

In coming editions of Connect we hope to feature other books, blogs, podcasts and videos that the IABC London board has been influenced by. If you have any must-read items, visit our Facebook page and share your thoughts.

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