If your paychecks came from Ford Motor Company in the 1970s, you lived in an ugly time. Morale was low. Sales were taking a beating. Quality was “job none.” And the company operated from an entrenched system of rules and regulations. Into that demoralized environment, Donald Peterson became Ford’s CEO in 1980.
Peterson showed up tossing words around like “teamwork” and “upward communication.” But words mean nothing to entrenched bureaucracies. So Peterson tried something radical – he left his office. He would walk into the offices of designers and ask simple questions like:
- Do you like these cars?
- Do you feel proud of them?
- Would you park one in your driveway?
I think you can guess the answer he received.
Your job, Peterson said, is to come up with the cars you think will sell – cars you can be proud of. The results were stunning and quick, by auto industry standards. The first significant product was the 1983 Thunderbird, followed quickly by the wildly successful Taurus, which became the best-selling midsized car in America.
That was just for starters. During the 1980s, Ford reversed its dismal previous performance to record then-record-breaking profits. Peterson was chosen by his fellow CEOs as the nation’s most effective leader, surpassing even Lee Iacocca.
What made the difference? Donald Peterson was a Side-by-Side Leader. In the words of Robert Richardson and Katherine Thayer, “Peterson didn’t accomplish all this by sitting behind a desk and telling people what he wanted done. He rolled up his shirt sleeves and jumped in. He provided a direction and goal and then participated in making them reality.”
Your Worst Skydiving Fear
Imagine you are an inexperienced skydiver. You’ve been on a few jumps, but still think of yourself as a rookie. It’s a beautiful day for flying and jumping out of airplanes, so up you go. You reach the point where it’s time to pull the ripcord, and it malfunctions. To your horror, so does the backup chute.
Suddenly it’s not such a good day for jumping out of airplanes. [click to continue…]