3 Actions to Get Ford’s New CEO Off to a Great Start

Mr. Fields, congratulations on your appointment as the next president and CEO of one of America’s treasures, the Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F). You have big shoes to fill -- Mr. Mulally has done a remarkable job, as I wrote about in a previous article.

Now it’s your turn.  In the opinion of this advisor to leaders, here are three actions you should be laser-focused on to get off to a great start.

  1. Establish your transition team and focus them on the top five priorities

Appoint people whose competence you respect and whose character you trust.  Ask them to recommend a top-five priorities list for the year ahead and have them make the case for each one.  Work through the team’s recommendations until you believe it’s right.

Once established, work with the team and corporate communications to share the top five priorities and rationale for each.  This needs to be done immediately so when you officially become CEO on July 1, the top five are communicated throughout Ford.  Times of transition bring uncertainty, people feel stress and it undermines productivity.  Clearly stating your priorities will remove the cloud that so often hangs over times of transition, setting a bright path forward.

  1. Hit the road

The people you are responsible for leading need to trust you.  Trust comes from a combination of perceived competence, reliability, character and intimacy.  You have already proven yourself in the first three from years of experience as a leader at Ford. Now the people you lead really need to get to know you as a person.  That’s intimacy.

Travel around the world and meet with the people of Ford. Don't make these visits all about the top five priorities.  If your corporate communications team and leaders have done their job well, the people will know the top five already.  Instead, thank them.  Tell them what makes you proud about Ford and how proud you are to work alongside them. Pick a few of Ford’s values that really resonate with you and share your personal stories about why those values are meaningful to you.

If a communications expert gives you pre-packaged stories to tell, run. These really must be YOUR stories. Don't be afraid to tell stories that move you emotionally.  If you feel strongly about those values and can share why from your own life, the people of Ford will feel what you feel.  By doing this, you will be communicating who you are and building the intimacy that is essential to gaining trust.

When you are out meeting with the people of Ford, ask them to tell you about any obstacles they see to accomplishing the top five priorities. Listen to what they have to say.  This is not the moment to be critical. Just thank them.  Have someone take notes and help you look for recurring patterns to keep on your radar screen.

  1. Assess your leaders and get rid of those who don’t live the values

I’ve yet to meet a great leader who hasn't been fooled by a few leaders beneath him or her.  Some people are brilliant at kissing up while kicking down.   These kiss-up / kick-down leaders destroy trust and breed cynicism.  Early on, you need to put processes in place to weed them out.  Implement an annual survey to assess employee engagement for every unit of Ford.  Include in the assessment questions about whether the unit’s leader is living up to Ford’s values.

Celebrate the leaders – and individual contributors – who are living the values.  Have your corporate communications team post two stories of people who live Ford’s values on your intranet every business day.  For leaders who are not living the values, get them a peer mentor or coach.  Give them six months then reassess.  If they are still not living the values, ship them out.

Mr. Fields, you have been given an immense responsibility and opportunity.  My hope is that one day, when you are handing over the CEO’s responsibility to your successor, it will be written about you, as I’ve written about Mr. Mulally, that you helped lead Ford to become an even greater company than it is today.  And may it be said that during your tenure as CEO, millions more of Ford’s customers around the world have been blessed by the opportunities for growth afforded them by the freedom of mobility made possible by the good people of Ford.