How Alan Mulally’s “Working Together” System Saved Boeing & Ford

How can certain leaders successfully lead their company to emerge triumphant out of a major crisis, when others do the exact opposite and bring it to the ground? What makes them different? 

Alan Mulally is the former CEO of Ford Motor Company where he led Ford’s transformation into becoming one of the world’s leading automobile brands in the United States. Prior to serving at Ford, Alan was the CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Boeing Information, Space, and Defense Systems. 

It was at Boeing that he first developed and implemented his “Working Together” principles and management systems. And this system is what distinguishes Alan Mulally from other leaders and is the key factor to the success of both Boeing and Ford. 

Every leader has to start somewhere — including Alan Mulally

Alan started out as an engineer at Boeing and was quickly promoted to a management position. He was very excited to lead his team, however, his first employee quit because he felt Alan’s job was to help him to do his job — not to keep redoing all of his work and show him all of his mistakes.

Alan took this feedback to heart and delved into learning more about managing people and creating his own leadership style. He came to an understanding that leadership is about helping people do their jobs well and about working together.

Similar Situations at Boeing and Ford

In 2001, Boeing Co. shares plummeted due to an attack on the World Trade Center with their company’s planes. Due to the attack, half of the orders on new planes were either canceled or delayed. 

However, over the next five years, Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes Group sales soared under the leadership of its new CEO, Alan Mulally. Mulally led the development of the Boeing 777 — the company’s most profitable aircraft ever — and was tapped as the leader just a few months before the attack. 

By 2006, Boeing had increased its stock prices and was building their most revolutionary jet in their generation, the 787 “Dreamliner”. However, by mid-2009, Boeing was facing another problem, the production of the 787 was behind schedule and the stock price of the company was at an all-time low.

At that time, Ford was at the brink of bankruptcy and they were in the middle of an economic crisis. However, Alan Mulally as Ford’s new CEO, successfully saved Ford, by leading a top-to-bottom transformation. 

By the end of his time at Ford as CEO, the company’s stock price was up, the board and the employees were happy, and Alan was named #3 on Fortune’s “World’s Greatest Leaders” list in 2013.

Now the question is, how can Alan Mulally transform the culture and work process of both Ford and Boeing? 

Related Read: The Downfall Of Boeing: The Deathly Impact Of Bad Leadership & Toxic Culture

Alan Mulally’s “Working Together” Principles

The key to Mulally’s seemingly miraculous success is his unique “Working Together” leadership and management system. 

ALan Mulally’s Stakeholder-centered Working Together Principles

People first… love ‘em up

In order to drive engagement and commitment among the team of talented people the leader has the honor of working with, leaders have to love them up at the highest level. Love ‘em up simply means: include them, appreciate them, thank them, celebrate them for their contributions. When people know they are respected and appreciated, and that their work matters, we have earned their hearts and minds. 

Everyone is included

“Everyone is included” is another way of describing a stakeholder-centered leadership. In order for an organization to deliver innovation, quality, and commitment, we need to include all of our stakeholders instead of just focusing on our shareholders.

Compelling vision, comprehensive strategy, and relentless implementation

It is important to articulate a clear and compelling vision for the company and develop a comprehensive strategy to deliver on that vision. Along with executing through a relentless implementation process led by a team working together to achieve their ultimate vision. 

Clear performance goals

Having clear performance goals is how leaders can drive everyone’s focus on working together towards achieving the one plan. 

One plan

Most companies focus on too many different plans instead of just one. Oftentimes this causes teams to get confused about what the real plan is. That is why, every company should have a “North Star”, the one goal or plan that every stakeholder needs to be aware of and work towards achieving.  

Facts and data

When there’s an issue, knowing the facts and data allows us to navigate the issue and find solutions confidently. 

Everyone knows the plan, the status, and areas that need special attention.

Everyone needs to understand the importance of keeping every stakeholder in the loop with the plan, the status of the plan, and areas that need special attention. By doing that, everyone could be involved in the process of finding solutions. 

In some organizations, the culture is to never bring up an issue to the supervisors unless they have a solution at hand. As a result, employees are reluctant to point out issues in a timely manner and there will be consequences because of it. It’s more prudent to bring up issues immediately and work together to come up with viable solutions.

Propose a plan, positive, “find-a-way” attitude.

Having a positive, find- a-way attitude is important to let the team see that having a problem is not a reflection on them personally — but rather a chance for the team to work together.

Respect, listen, help, and appreciate each other.

The way we treat each other is essential to being a healthy and successful organization where people feel safe to share their issues, work together to come up with solutions, and ultimately a better plan. In other words, to create a safe space for the entire team.

Emotional resilience — trust the process

As we work towards building the future, we have to expect the unexpected and trust the process. When there is an issue, circle back to the beginning of the process. And work together as a team to help each other resolve the issue at hand. 

Have fun. Enjoy the journey and each other.

Having a healthy team dynamic, psychological safety, a sense of belonging, and purpose is also a huge part of the “Working Together” culture. The journey in an organization should be purposeful, exciting, and fun. Being able to enjoy working alongside talented people who share the same passion and dedication to the company’s “North Star” is something powerful that we should celebrate. 

PGA (Profitable Growth for All)

PGA means that by creating products and services that people want and value, we will serve all the stakeholders and the greater good. 

Marshall Goldsmith On Alan Mulally

According to Marshall Goldsmith, Alan Mulally is a true example of the phrase, “every leader has to start somewhere.” He didn’t start out as a great leader, but he became a great leader.

Over the many years that Marshall has personally known him, Alan never gets down on himself, his people, or his company. He has an enthusiasm that radiates towards the people around him, in an almost childlike joy in what he does. 

He once told Marshall: “Every day I remind myself that leadership is not about me. It is about the great people who are working with me.” That’s how he leads, and it is this example he sets that says more about great leadership than his words can ever convey.

Although Alan is not the sole reason behind the success of either Boeing or Ford, the contribution he brings to both companies with his “Working Together” principles, has significantly impacted the way they do business. It boosts employee engagement, establishes a healthy culture, and brings everyone together to focus on one main goal — and therefore, driving growth for the companies he leads.





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