February 7th, 2022
Still Relevant 150 Years Later, Henry Ford Had Leadership Essentials Down to a T
He was born to farmers of modest means in 1863, but when he died, Henry Ford’s net worth was equal to that of Elon Musk’s today. As America’s second billionaire, the father of mass production, and the Ford Motor Company founder, Henry Ford has a lot to teach us about determination, ingenuity, leadership, and life.
Case in point; this quote:
“Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.”
That quote alone is a master class for leaders. Ford captures and simplifies countless chapters in untold volumes of business and leadership books with those three small sentences. Here are key takeaways from each that are not only still relevant but essential:
Nothing can happen without this first step, and I believe this is where excellence plays the most vital role. Passion alone is not enough. If passion is the car, excellence is the engine. And excellence will naturally draw the talent and resources needed to fuel the organization and move it forward.
Ford spent years honing his skills and presenting excellent work from farmer to pocket watch repairman to steam engine builder. Eventually, he caught the eye of a young, like-minded pioneer named Thomas Edison, rising to the level of Chief Engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company before leaving to establish the Ford Motor Company in 1903.
Ford displayed every characteristic of a budding leader and entrepreneur, and when his time came, his reputation preceded him. He made it easy for people to come together – over him and his ideas.
“You say I started out with practically nothing, but that isn’t correct. We all start with all there is, it’s how we use it that makes things possible.” – Henry Ford
As an organization grows, so does the potential for dissatisfaction, grumbling, and factions within the ranks. Acquisition and training costs were high at Ford Motor Company, and turnover rates were even higher. Ford learned the hard way that something was missing.
Instead of finger-pointing and blame game tactics, he chose empathy and developed the “Ford Sociological Department” to promote worker welfare. This department led extensive research amongst workers, collecting data about saving, spending, and even habits and vices. Based on these findings, significant policy changes were made, including the introduction of the five-day, 40-hour workweek, the famous “five-dollar-day” plan (an unheard-of wage at the time), and a ground-breaking profit-sharing model. He also committed to providing jobs for the disabled, and nearly 20% of his workforce had some form of disability.
Ford said that he didn’t just want his employees to make a living; he wanted them to have a living, and as a result, retention rates and productivity levels skyrocketed.
Loyalty builds, and employees stay when they are seen, heard, and valued.
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” – Henry Ford
Once you come together and decide to keep together, then the real work begins. But here’s where many leaders tend to go into cruise control and then wonder why their business has stalled months or years down the road. It’s because what comes next, I believe, is one of the most critical factors to a leader’s success: engagement.
Henry Ford didn’t set it and forget it. He was constantly listening, reevaluating, problem-solving, and reinventing. He made it his business to know what was needed and then did whatever it took to ensure productivity. He eventually achieved total self-sufficiency by owning, operating, and coordinating all resources necessary to produce Ford automobiles, including his own railroad, rubber tree farm, and so much more. An incredible feat even by today’s standards.
I realize that the majority of us can only wish for resources on that scale. But what we do all have is the ability to engage. We can, and should, have our fingers on the pulse of our organizations at all times. Our employees will tell us everything we need to know if we’re present and willing to listen.
“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford
Henry Ford lived and breathed excellence, empathy, and engagement, and more than 150 years later, his legacy and methods live on. So how would you rate your leadership in terms of the three E’s? Although Ford is a tough comparison that can cause us mortal leaders to feel wildly insufficient, I’ll leave you with one more quote:
“There is no man living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.” – Henry Ford
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