Courage — to serve?

Ever reach out to connect or collaborate with someone, thinking it was all about a “project” to find yourself trying to comprehend the quality of the person you were reaching out to; how separate from convention, how extra-ordinary they truly were? I did, and I am still processing it.

arrows on white background. Isolated 3D image

As many of you will know, I have recently completed the draft writing of a new book: Resilience; How culture enabled the rebirth of Ford Motor Company (iBooks). Writing a book is the easy part, I hear, and promoting it is where the real work begins. So I have committed to engaging the process, so as to be true to the message. I thought it would be helpful to get an endorsement from Ford, and so I set out to see if this was possible. In the end, I did get the endorsement, but the experience of encountering Alan Mulally (President and CEO of Ford Motor Company) in the process of achieving it, was a greater gift; far more moving than I could have imagined.

I met the man who inspired one of the greatest corporate turnarounds that the world has ever seen. While I interacted with him I began to feel that he was just as interested in my vision as I was in his. What I mean by this is, he did not simply respond to my request, he and his staff took the time to affirm me in the process, personally. Imagine a day in the life of Alan Mulally and his top staff. Personal handling does not happen by accident – it has to be a value!

As I interacted with Alan and his team, I noted their confident commitment to authentic interaction with real people,  I got the sense that this was a place where the One Goal of “An exciting viable Ford delivering profitable growth for all” was a regular experience; a corporation where people really walk the talk.

Culture is leadership behavior, and I was blessed with the experience of interacting with the architect of Ford culture. Mulally describes his role in this way: “The honor of leading, pulling everybody together around a compelling vision and around a strategy to implement that compelling vision, and then pulling everybody together around a process to relentlessly implement that strategy.” (

The “honor of leading…” There is deep character revealed in this simple statement, character that is revealed in the statements that move him, such as is found in the Henry Ford Manifesto, Opening the Highways to all Mankind: “The Ford Motor Company views its station today less with pride in great achievement than with the sincere and sober realization of new and larger opportunities for service to all mankind.” (

This reminds me of the two inscriptions by President Charles William Eliot that adorn the Dexter gate of the Harvard Business School: on the outside, “Enter to grow in wisdom”; on the inside, “Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.”

It also reminds me of the wise words of Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning): “For success like happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

The current news has been alive with tales of what will happen if/when Mulally leaves Ford and/or joins Microsoft. Microsoft stock jumped at the mention, and well it should, for Mulally is a proven first-rate leader. Having said this, Ford shareholder’s need not fear. Mulally’s selfless courage has led him to restructure a Ford culture of interdependence; one that is not solely dependent on an icon. He describes his succession plan as being “seamless”. This is what courageous leadership does. It was never about the position or power – always about the “cause that was greater than oneself”.

Thank-you Alan for giving us an example of unconventional courage; values-based, servant leadership in action.