Alan Mulally, Ford, and the 6Cs


When Alan Mulally took over Ford Motor Company in 2006, it was a struggling American icon, a once-great organization that had for too long been living in the past, coasting on its reputation, and avoiding realities.

At its core, this was an organization constrained by bureaucracy and bad habits. Mulally’s leadership transformed Ford’s culture, enabling it to not only pull itself out of the mud but to get back on the road and take off.

How did he do it? Whether he realized it or not, Alan Mulally employed and fostered the 6Cs in his leadership:

  1. Returning to the founding values. Mulally restored the values—watered down by previous chief executives—that had made Ford a trailblazer in its early years. This created a basis for fresh, purposeful, and honest collaboration.
  2. Making Ford “one” company. Tearing down Ford’s independent, isolated functional silos helped set the stage for dialogue and open communications.
  3. De-bureaucratizing through accountability. He recognized that bureaucracy-driven paralysis was a barrier to employee confidence and critical thinking that had to be removed.
  4. Rewriting the model for Ford’s way of doing business. The old model passively relied on relating to customers through brands and dealers; the new model actively connects employees to customers—building on content to drive creative innovation delivering the very best cars to customers.

Mulally and Ford: The stories and the challenges

In 2006, when Bill Ford tapped Alan Mulally to be his company’s CEO, Ford was looking for an outsider who would challenge the way things had always been done. Ford was losing nearly $6 billion a quarter. Its debt had been classified as junk; analysts whispered about bankruptcy.

After his first day at Ford, Mulally wrote, “We just need to act on the reality. Then we’ll be back making the best cars in the world.”

Mulally had heard the same comment from both executives and customers: Ford had let itself go. Although the company made good cars and crossovers in Europe, in the United States, consumers thought of Fords as unreliable gas-guzzlers, disparaged them as “Fix Or Repair Dailies,” or didn’t think about them at all. This was the reality Mulally knew Ford had to act on.

Mulally also studied the company’s history. Everything Mulally was learning, concluding, and planning evidenced his own inherent 6Cs skills—with confidence driving the other five.

Returning to founding values: Collaboration

As Mulally examined Ford’s history, he saw that the company Henry Ford founded had changed the world and created prosperity for generations.

He found an ad Henry Ford had placed in 1925, depicting a young couple standing next to their Model T. The caption read, “Opening the highways to all mankind.” Beneath it, Henry Ford outlined his vision:

An organization, to render any service so widely useful, must be large in scope as well as great in purpose. To conquer the high cost of motoring and to stabilize the factors of production— this is a great purpose.

In accomplishing its aims the Ford institution has never been daunted by the size or difficulty of any task. It has spared no toil in finding the way of doing each task best. It has dared to try out the untried with conspicuous success.

At the next board meeting, Mulally presented a slide with the old Ford logo’s blue oval at its center marked “Vision.”  He defined this as “People working together as a lean, global enterprise for automotive leadership.” By leadership, he said, he meant all being viewed as second to none.

And leading by example, Mulally lived collaboratively—he ate with employees in the cafeteria and regularly conversed with secretaries and assembly line workers.

De-bureaucratizing and creating One Ford through communication

Mulally made difficult decisions. He sold off glitzy and high-profile makes of cars, including Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Volvo. He brought back the Taurus — and focused on One Ford.

He also restructured the fragmented organization, integrating the regions and functions making each business unit fully accountable, while ensuring that each key function—from purchasing to product development—was managed globally. This structure facilitated critical and integrated thinking. Mulally wanted to create One Ford to have one team communicating and working together while serving each market in a unique fashion.

Every Thursday, Mulally held his “business plan review,” or BPR. Attendance was mandatory for all senior executives. Each was expected to communicate succinct status reports with a distilled set of tables and charts updating each other on progress toward the company’s goals.

In his first BPR, Mulally stopped the meeting halfway through. “We’re going to lose billions of dollars this year,” he said, eyeing each executive in turn. “Why is every line green? Isn’t there anything that’s not going well here?” The executives later admitted they hadn’t believed Mulally when he’d promised that honesty would not be penalized. That’s why all their lines were green.

Mark Fields, president of Ford Americas at that time, stared at the line for the new Ford Edge, as he prepared his slides for the second BPR meeting. Production had already begun on the car, but a grinding noise coming from the suspension had been reported.

Fields knew that delaying the launch might bring down the as-yet-unfathomed wrath of their new CEO. It was the end of the year, when Ford executives traditionally pulled out all the stops and cut whatever corners necessary to hit their sales targets. But, that was the old Ford.

At the second BPR, Fields’s slide showed red. There was dead silence. “Dead man walking,” thought one of his peers. “I wonder who’ll get the Americas,” another mused. Suddenly, someone started clapping. It was Mulally. “Mark, that’s great visibility,” he said, beaming. “Who can help Mark with this?”

Thus was born new collaboration at Ford, born of honest communication.

When that meeting ended with Fields still in charge of the Americas, most of his peers had reached the same conclusion: They needed to communicate honestly. A week later, everyone’s slides were splattered with more red than a crime scene. Mulally thought, “Now I know why we’re losing so much money! But, they trust me. They trust the process. We finally have it all out in the open. Now we can start fixing it.”

From this point, confidence bloomed, communication flowed, collaboration grew, and critical thinking was unleashed.

Rewriting the model for doing business

Mulally understands that people truly want to come to work at a company they can believe in. He’s given Ford’s employees more reasons to feel good about themselves and proud of their company. He defined a straightforward mission: Build higher quality, safer, more fuel-efficient cars—that employees can rally around. “The more each of us knows what we’re really contributing to, the more motivated and excited and inspired we are,” he says.

The 6Cs and business success

Allan Mulally transformed a dying, hide-bound company into a tougher, more nimble player that embraced the world economy.

The means of achieving this transformation are also simple sounding: collaboration; communication; content; critical thinking; creative innovation; and confidence. These 6Cs may seem obvious ingredients of success, but without a business leader who practices them and facilitates and supports them in others, they are surprisingly difficult to employ. Alan Mulally is one such leader from whom others— from students to teachers to organization members and their leaders—can learn.

What Andy Grove Taught Me


Since Monday, when I learned that Andrew Grove had passed away, two lessons that Andy had role-modeled have been rolling over in my head.

The first lesson:  Pursue life with a tenacious focus and never stop challenging assumptions

The stories of Andy challenging assumptions begins with the reinvention of Intel, a company he co-founded and took from being the big gorilla in memory chips into being the big gorilla of microprocessors – challenging assumptions like he was starting from scratch and encouraging cannibalization within the company he’d built.  I’ve never seen or heard of another founder who reinvented a giant enterprise like Andy Grove did.  He challenged assumptions when he found out he had cancer and ignored what doctors told him, instead studying on his own and choosing the unproven treatment that would in fact prove to prolong his life.

I had the good fortune of watching him in action in 2010 in a meeting at the Grove foundation.  Scott Johnson, founder of the Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF) – which I was advising – was sharing with Andy how they were connecting research across academic institutions and accelerating the launching of drugs, with a focus on results.  We anticipated that Andy would want to learn how he could take the accelerated launching approach to specific areas related to Parkinson’s disease.  In fact, much of the meeting was about the particular challenges The Grove Foundation was dealing with regarding Parkinson’s:

  1. Had MRF created standards industry wide?
    Andy discussed that there were no common measurements or standards related to Parkinson’s and its progression.   He showed us a peg-board-like unit that Intel had built and used for developing standard measurements – a tool that he was encouraging doctors everywhere to use.   He wanted to learn of any standard measurement scheme in place so that those of us involved with MRF could learn collectively.   We spent about an hour on this issue and the challenges the MRF had faced.   Andy Grove was building tools  that would let a problem be understood and solved collectively around the world.
  2. Had MRF interfaced with the National Health Service — NHS – or international health organizations, e.g., WHO, NHS, other country-specific organizations, and what lessons could they share?
    Andy described the piecemeal nature he felt and saw in how the issues associated with Parkinson’s disease were being addressed. He wanted to learn from everyone in the room how these issues had been addressed, and about who from where was open to integrated solutions, etc.

We left that meeting knowing that Andy Grove was not interested in MRF’s accelerated approach for a drug release. Rather, he was breaking apart everything needed to address Parkinson’s disease and bring all the resources together to find solutions – and we had just been part of his amazing and eye-opening problem-solving approach.   There was no assumption that Andy wouldn’t challenge, and he was totally focused and persistent.  Or as he often said, “Only the Paranoid survive.”

I left that meeting with a treasure – an acquaintanceship with Andy Grove. Over the next six months, he was so engaged and energized about the MRF, its challenges, and what he could learn and take back to Parkinson’s disesase that he thought nothing of calling me at any point with an idea or a question – even once at 4:00 in the morning.

The second lesson: Mentoring is part of who I am.

Intel was built into the company and culture Andy Grove built – starting with when he bought cubicles from the discount place for the first employees of the company that would become to the center of the high-tech world.  I saw the strength of the culture Andy had built when I was working with a supplier who had hired a VP from Intel, who six months later quit his new job, saying, “I didn’t appreciate the strength of support and pride I had every day when I went home from Intel.  I am returning there for a 25 percent cut in salary.   It is the place I want to be.”

When I was a new associate at McKinsey, I received a letter from Andy Grove. The president and chairman of Intel had taken time out of his busy day to tell me that the editorial I had published in the Wall Street Journal had taken courage to write and was good.  He didn’t know me then, and yet he mentored me.

I would go so far as to say that part of why Silicon Valley is so special is because Andy Grove built it to be a place of mentorship.

When I see an article of his I drop everything else and read it on the spot Here is an article by Andy Grove that I would encourage everyone to read – both as a great illustration of the value of challenging our assumptions, and as a way to let Andy mentor each of us.

Happy birthday Frances*

November 1st, 2015 – The day time changes

hbfI will share with you three quick stories and postulate a mathematical definition for us to toast on France’s birthday.

It was the summer of 1976. I was a math grad student, researching the potential impact of the 26th Amendment with four other nerds for my senator Birch Bayh. The amendment changed the voting age to match the age when one could be drafted. At the end of the summer, Senator Bayh and his wife, Marvella, took us to a dinner in Indianapolis honoring him. Listening to the speaker that night was, as Frances would say, a defining moment in my life.

Robert Greenleaf defined the difference between the servant-leader and the leader-servant.

“The servant-leader is servant first. . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead—leading so one can better serve.

“That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. . . .

“The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

Senator Bayh asked how can you identify a servant-first leader.
Robert Greenleaf replied: “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest-priority needs are being served.

The best test is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

Senator Bayh then asked Robert Greenleaf if he ever met anyone who is the at either extreme and totally a servant-leader or leader-servent. (100%)

Robert laughed and said we all know 100% leaders first.

He then thought a moment and carefully spoke about the ONE person he had met in his life that he believed was the 100% servant-leader. It was the new CEO of the Girl Scouts, Frances Hesselbein.

Fast-forward 25 years: In Peter F. Drucker’s living room, I was busy writing down the names of the people Peter Drucker thought I should interview as I wrote about him. When he said, “Frances Hesselbein,” a chill went down my spine. I flashed back to that summer day in 1976.

I put my pen down and asked Peter to describe Frances after he explained she was CEO of the Girl Scouts and the first woman on the cover of Business Week. … He went on to describe Frances as wearing a magical set of spectacles (two circles):

  • She sees differently and helps others see differently.
  • She sees good and what is possible.
  • She elevates what others are capable of seeing and doing.
  • There are no bounds to what Frances sees.
  • She sees and creates results: the least privileged and all of society benefit from Frances. We are all better off.

Frances helps the helping and the helped find more connections and commonality than the differences between them.

Peter then went on to link the root of the word spectacles to spectacular and the discussed the history of the words.

He circled back and said, “if you put two Hesselbein circles together, you have infinity.”

2008: My daughter was tutoring middle-school kids at Harlem Children Zone’s after-school program, four days a week. On occasion I would pick her up, and we would drive home together. One day she described her day as taking some donors on a tour. One donor asked if she gave one of their schools a few computers, would that help the kids?

Violet’s response: Frances would ask the teachers what tools and support they needed to better serve the students.

That morphed into a conversation where the donor asked who was Frances and subsequently contacted teachers at multiple schools to ask the Frances question and better serve the students.

The result was glasses for fourth graders who could not read the blackboard in two schools. Spectacles.

Frances’s spectacles had gone through my hands to my daughter’s eyes—and to the eyes of the donors to the teachers to serve the students.


Every circle has no beginning and no end.

What are the properties that characterize the Hesselbein Circle?

  1. Every point is equidistant from every other point, meaning each member is equally important.
  2. The center, FRANCES, is everywhere.
  3. The circumference of the circle is greater than the sum of the members.
  4. There are no negative forces inside the circle—all forces are positive.
  5. Around every Hesselbein circle another can be drawn.

Let us toast to Frances Hesselbein and all Hesselbein circles.

* Many people have requested copy of my comments from a celebration of Frances Hesselbein on October 29th, 2015

The Peter-Doris Duet: A Model Partnership


While working with Peter F. Drucker in the last years of his life, I had the opportunity to observe a model partnership – one of respect, play, and dialogue. While he’d worked successfully with the CEOs of GE, Proctor and Gamble, and many others from the largest companies in the world to leading heads of countries, his true partner was his wife, Doris.

I n June of 2005, I was riding with Peter and Doris, both then in their 90s, to an HBR event honoring Peter. As they sat back, Doris asked Peter, “Why were you in and out of bed so much last night?” Peter replied, “I had a nightmare. I was trying to explain to Socrates what an elevator was. It was impossible!”

Doris shot back, “Can you imagine trying to explain to him a cell phone?” Peter then came back with, “That would not have been a problem, because there was not any kind of phone in Socrates’ lifetime. It is easier to explain something new than to convince someone that the staircase is not the best alternative.” Doris’s expression was puzzlement. But she said nothing.

When we arrived at the event, Peter asked Doris if he could have a glass of wine. She said, “After you talk.” Once he’d received his award, he asked Doris again and she handed him his glass of wine. He looked over at me and whispered, “She could have explained that elevator to Socrates.”

I was with Peter on April 2, 2004. When I arrived, he told me that the night before Doris had sown the hems of his pajama pants closed. He said she did that every April Fools Day. He still laughed at it.

The following spring, as I was driving Peter home from his office one day, he insisted that we stop at a store so he could buy Doris the largest card he could find for Mother’s Day. Doris later told me that their four children were born in the years Peter wrote his first four books. After the fourth, she told Peter no more kids, but that she would continue to proof and read his books. He wrote 36 more.

After Peter passed away, Doris shared many more stories. One was that she was certain he had taken up ice-skating at the age of 40 because Camille Berra, Yogi’s wife, had invited him skating with her. Camille is a fantastic ice skater and Yogi would not skate with her, yet he did play tennis with Doris until she and Peter moved to the West Coast. Such was life with the Drucker duet.

During my last meeting with Doris, four months ago, over tea, she encouraged me to update my book on Peter, saying the stories needed to be more current. With a twinkle in her eye, Doris was challenging me. She would hold a party for the book when it was done, she said – but I’d better hurry.

Happy Birthday to Peter F. Drucker, Father of Management

“The greatest innovation of the 20th century was the discipline of management. The most important profession of the 21st century will be disciplined management.”

Society has always had managers, meaning people in positions of institutional power, such as owners and overseers. In the same way, we’ve always had doctors. However, until medicine became a codified discipline that could be taught, practiced, and improved upon, we didn’t expect nearly as much from them as we do now. Today, there are better doctors and worse ones – individual practitioners differ – but the discipline of medicine has raised the average performance level of physicians well above the most gifted of their predecessors a century ago. In the same way, the discipline of management has enabled managers to contribute much more and has stretched their sphere of influence beyond their enterprises and into the larger society. Organizations are now so integral to the fabric of our lives that we take them for granted.

Management’s growing effectiveness has made organizations the vehicle of choice for carrying out much of the work of modern society. We are born in organizations, supplied by organizations, informed by organizations, educated by organizations, so that we can later work in organizations – and, ultimately, be buried by organizations. Along the way, organizations fulfill our wants and needs, entertain us, help us socialize, govern us – and, yes, also frustrate and harass us. The variety of organizations reflects the breadth of human purpose. Management makes organizations possible; good management makes them work well. Over the past century, the discipline of management has transformed the experience of work and multiplied its productivity.

Management’s real genius is turning complexity and specialization into simplicity and service. As the global economy increasingly gives us more intelligence and faster access to each other’s thoughts, work will continue to grow more specialized and complex, not less. So management will play a larger role in our lives, not a smaller one.

Today we salute Peter F. Drucker, the father of the discipline of management, who played a seminal role in maximizing the impact of managers and the power of their organizations. Management’s business is building organizations that work. What can be more important today for a sustainable and healthy world?


Alan Mulally, please don’t go to Microsoft!

Dear Alan,

As I listen to the growing speculation that you’re the favored candidate to lead Microsoft, I smile in admiration. But, I feel increasingly certain that this is not the right move for you.

As you said in casual conversation more than two years ago, Microsoft needs to create a team of technological fiefdoms, shedding what doesn’t make sense, and focusing efforts on what matters tomorrow. You have what Microsoft needs: an ability to bring together an enormous range of capabilities – hardware, software – and enterprises that you’ve made mesh splendidly, bringing disparate pieces together to create a unified whole – an organization, or as you call it, One Ford, that moves itself and society forward.

But, as our friend Frances Hesselbein, who taught leadership at West Point, puts it: “Leadership is who you are, not what you do.”  Alan, you’re the soul of the new Ford Motor Company.   By now, you are part of its DNA, just like its founder; you are in essence the founder of the 21st century Ford. Founders have lifelong relationships with their enterprises and mesh their identities with their organizations.    Could Henry Ford ever have gone to another company?  Would Steve Jobs have gone to Boeing?

Perhaps worst of all, moving to Microsoft would take the Mulally magic away from Ford.   We need only look back to Lee Iococca, another new founder whose identity was wrapped into an organization, to see what happens when such a successful founder departs for another corporation: Chrysler collapsed. As the new Ford’s founder, jumping to the next corporate opportunity doesn’t fit the values of One Ford, One Team that define what Ford now is, or who you are.

For Ford to keep humming, people need to talk about you every day. You are part of the organizational lore and sense of meaning of Ford Motor Company, at least as much as Henry Ford himself was.  I know you are a humble man.  But, do not understate the importance of the Mulally effect on the enterprise.

I hope your next job is Secretary of Education or head of the Small Business Administration – jobs where you can continue to serve in a broader capacity while your spirit and values remain associated with Ford.

As you’ve said before, “Keep the Ford Focus.”


My Father’s Stories:
Valuing People

For most of my life, if asked to describe my father, I would have talked about his accomplishments.   Today I believe he was a teacher who valued people and truly cared.  “Leadership is who you are, not what you do,” observed Frances Hesselbein, the former CEO of the Girl Scouts of America and founder of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.  With my father’s death, this idea came to life: The values you live are who you are.

Those values made him a great administrator from the very beginning.  In 1962, Frederick Hovde, President of Purdue, mounted a national search to identify someone who could build a first-class mathematics department at Purdue University.  When offered the job, Dad said, “If you want a first-class department, you need to make a commitment now that I can hire people this year without any interference.  A department begins with people.”  In his first year, Dad added 21 mathematicians to the department.   All of whom loved math and cared about teaching.

Dad taught and mentored hundreds of students and faculty over the years, and their success was his greatest pleasure. Louis De Branges, Edward C. Elliott Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at Purdue University, pulled me aside in 2006, when Purdue was naming a building after my father. He said,  “Your father made sure I had what I needed to do great research, and that nothing got in my way. Your father is a mentor, a coach, and my best friend. No one else has ever done so much for me.”   As he spoke, I kept thinking of how my father had come home glowing and proud in 1984.   Louis had come to his office to tell him he had proved the Bieberbach conjecture.  My father was the first person he told.  My father always said that his job was to make sure Purdue had the best people and they were set up to win.

The focus on others was more than institutional with him. A number of people he mentored have said to me, “You are so lucky. I was jealous of the relationship you had with your father. He was a great father figure.  I was closer to your father than I am to mine.” One continued, “When he visited San Francisco, he took me to dinner just to learn how I was doing and let me know he cared. He had no agenda. He just wanted to know me.” Another said, “He always told me stories that made me think about what I could do.  They had to do with life as much as math.  He saw that I felt like a stranger here.   I heard the story of Sam the Tailor at least three times.  Sam ended up in Indiana because he got on the wrong train with his family.   Sam made Lafayette his community and has a very special place here.”

My brothers and I remember his playing duplicate bridge with each of us.  For a while, he was using three different bidding systems (a weak no trump for Richard, the precision club for me, and standard American for David) to play to our individual strengths.  He did this for about 6 years.  I cannot remember one time when he used the wrong bidding system with me.  When he was with me, he was focused on me.

My father had seven grandchildren, and a unique relationship with each. For example, he wrote a proof with my daughter Violet when she observed a pattern in numbers.   None of her teachers at Horace Mann had time to sit with her and think through what caused this particular pattern, whether or not it had been identified before, or whether it could be proven.  Her grandfather did. Brian, a 29 year-old grandson, brought cards to the hospital, 120+ miles from home, to see if my father could help with a card problem. He did.

My father’s caring, passionate engagement with others even extended to politics. A few months ago, at the age of 92, he attended a fundraising event for Cory Booker. They talked for a long while, each discovering a kindred soul in the other as my father shared his concerns about the values and sense of empathy he felt needed to passed on to the next generation – for their sake and for our country’s in general. After the social portion of the event, Booker spoke for half an hour, spending about a third of that time talking about his conversation with my dad. He stressed how impressed he was with how much my father cared about people and about his country, and most of all by the fact that even at his age, he’d felt the need to come and speak with his state’s Senatorial candidate in person, rather than simply sit by and bemoan the status quo.

valuing-peopleBut that was my father’s essence: he actively cared — about his family, his students, his colleagues, his fellow citizens, and his country. And at every level, he did what he could to make things better.

My Father’s Stories:
Education – Good is Not Great

My father, Phil Haas, rose to a top position at a research university, and he saw first-hand that great teachers create passion in their students.  Igniting this passion is arguably the first item on the agenda of our education system, and it sometimes seems to have fallen to the bottom of the list.

Dad often referred to a study completed by a former president of Dartmouth College.  It compared Calculus II final exam grades for students taught by graduate assistants, associate professors, and full professors.   I’d expect that students learning from experienced professors would do better, but the results showed no significant difference in averages or distributions by type of teacher. A year later, the president investigated what classes those students had enrolled in. Students of full professors were enrolled in high-level elective math classes at a rate more than double the other groups.  Clearly, the full professors had created passion in more students than the more junior teachers.

Blackboard6My father was a math professor at Purdue University and was also an administrator. The most exciting achievements in his career were his experiences in the classroom.  He was particularly proud of mentoring the daughter of a general in 1991.  She wanted to be a teacher – maybe a math teacher. One day she needed to go home for a family conference with her father.   A few days later the U.S. invaded Iraq. My father mentored her through that difficult emotional time. She called him her father “in loco” and left Purdue with an even greater love for mathematics.   She’s since received her Ph.D. and teaches mathematics at a prestigious university. His role in supporting her achievement was one of my father’s proudest accomplishments.

Are we fostering that kind of pride in educators today? Do we measure our teachers as mentors, as individuals who inspire? Not these days.   We assess teachers on their students’ exam scores, regardless of whether the students are reeling from malnutrition, lack of sleep, divorce, and other turmoil that happens outside school.  As Jim Collins would ask, are we striving to be good rather than great?  In a hyper-competitive global job market, is good really good enough?    My father didn’t think so. Before his death this month, he talked about the decline in true standards for education. “There is nothing more important now for this country,” he said, “than passionate learners.”

My father, who believed that math skills were essential for our workforce, was proud that Purdue offered honors Calculus courses and is now expanding this program he had started — an investment in their students and our nation’s future.

My Father’s Stories:
Decisions and General Patton

Over the past 6 weeks, I have had the opportunity to listen to many of my father’s lessons and stories, and think about the questions he posed. My next few blogs will replay some of these.

Decision Making

Wisdom:  My father viewed the difference between a good leader and a great leader as the ability to know when to make decisions, and when they make them to execute without looking back.  As he phrased it, “you will never have all the information you would like to make a decision, unless you’ve waited too long.   To know when you have enough, to make a decision and then go with it, is critical of great leaders.”

General George Patton: My father served in General Patton’s artillery division as staff sergeant. Patton assembled a bilingual intelligence unit which provided essential logistic information on the movement of the Germans as the American army progressed into Europe. My father’s mind was challenged to gather vital information to his unit’s advancements and then calculate the angles and positions for artillery fire.

Following D-Day, in August of 1944, the heavy artillery as part of the U.S. Third Army was driving through France.  As they were chasing the Germans, and approaching Colmar, Patton asked my father and his team to assess if they had the power and position to blow up a monumental stone bridge that was out of sight.  It appeared as if the Germans were heading towards that bridge to cross the Rhine.

After about 20 minutes, Patton came back and looked at my father eye to eye.   My father said,  “The bridge is at the edge of our range.  We have it as accurately positioned, as we will be able to.   I think we can hit it.”  Patton replied, without hesitation,  “give it everything we have and thank you.”

Subsequently, General Eisenhower called it, “One of the most successful missions in modern history .”  We cut the Germans off and more than 30,000 did not cross that river.

As my father told the story, he was in awe of Patton’s ability to make the decision at the moment, understand the risks, trust the team completely, bet on it’s success, and own the results – even if it had failed.  Patton thanked my father, regardless of the results.   My father’s last words were thank you.

Defining Moment

What is most crucial to the success of a manager – a strong undergraduate education? Top-notch grad school? A steady rise through one company, or a deep understanding of several companies?

How about this: None of the above. Instead, consider the importance of a defining moment.  That defining moment – or more likely, series of moments throughout life – shapes a person’s work ethic and attitude about creativity. It goads, inspires, and warns a manager about how to handle difficult situations.

A defining moment usually centers on a clash between one’s personal beliefs and the culture of an organization. You have to choose between what your heart tells you and what your boss wants. The best solutions that come from these moments mix innovation and ethics.

A true defining moment involves a “combination of shrewdness and expediency, coupled with imagination and boldness,” according to Joseph Badaracco, the John Shad Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School. Coming through a defining moment helps someone come to his or her own understanding of what is right.

When I think about defining moments, I think about a leadership expert who ought to be a household name. She’s Frances Hesselbein, who has a gift for running businesses and nonprofits. She is the only person who can claim to have served as CEO of the Girl Scouts as well as a leadership expert at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (She’s the first woman as well as the first non-graduate in the chair, named in honor of the Class of ’51.)

When Francs talks to business leaders, she often discusses a defining moment at a time when she was pushing the Girl Scouts to unparalleled growth, inclusiveness and significance.

In brief:

A man went on TV claiming he’d found a pin in a Girl Scout cookie. Soon, more than 300 people echoed that story. This came at the height of the organization’s key nationwide fundraising event. A PR firm urged Frances to continue cookie sales and refuse to comment on the allegations until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finished investigating seven cookie factories.  A board member objected, but Frances followed the advice.

Three days later, the FDA determined that the first pin couldn’t have gotten into the cookies before the box was opened by the consumer. In addition, the FBI announced a $25,000 fine and 20 years in jail for anyone behind a hoax.

“Immediately, the pins in the cookies disappeared,” Hesselbein likes to say.

One vital lesson of that defining moment for her: When you get good advice from an expert, follow it.

Frances attracts first-rate talent from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.  She credits that to a defining moment in her childhood, when she visited her grandparents in a Pennsylvania coal mining town. Here’s a video of her describing that moment:



When Frances tells that story, universally others come up to Frances to tell her their story. Here is Warren Bennis, a pioneer in leadership studies, telling Frances about a defining moment in his life: