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Leadership Lessons from INSITE

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Alan Mulally, who led the turnaround at Ford from 2006 to 2014 after running Boeing’s commercial aircraft business, built much of his career success through the use of ex-Boeing CEO Phil Condit’s “Working Together” approach. The engineer and executive shared how that framework can work for advisors at Pershing’s INSITE meeting this summer in Phoenix.

Some of Working Together’s key ingredients are integrity, honesty, respect and trust. Those who aren’t interested or able to follow its tenets, Mulally explained, are politely invited (and urged) to “move on to other opportunities.”

“It’s about trusting the process and having zero tolerance for violations,” he explained. “Enjoy the journey, but there’s no [joking or] humor at someone else’s expense. You go along to get along, or you don’t get [the insights from] sharing.”

In Working Together, everyone “knows how important they are [in the process] — suppliers, investors, employees, [customers] and beyond,” he said.

Having a positive attitude — or “finding a way” to accomplish a goal no matter the challenges — is also critical, Mulally said, explaining how Boeing and later Ford used color codes (green, yellow and red) to track progress and problems.

Mulally saw cultural change as the only way to move forward for a company with a $17 billion net loss. “I worked to bring all leaders together and go through my plans,” he said. This meant getting top managers to feel comfortable with problems — meaning being color coded yellow or red. “We had to say what [was] not going well,” Mulally told them. “And no one wanted to be the first to say something.”

That changed, thanks to Mark Fields and other Ford execs’ embrace of the Working Together. “It was about trusting the process [as a team], and then we knew that no matter what happened, we were going to be OK,” he said. Overall, the retired executive explained: “To be successful, you need to have a compelling vision, a comprehensive strategy and relentless implementation.”

‘The Infinite Game’

For advisors who want to grow their businesses, best-selling author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek suggests asking what game you want to play and why you want to play it. If your goal is to beat the competition, you’re playing a finite game; if your goal is to outlast rivals, you’re playing “The Infinite Game,” which is the title of his latest book.

“So don’t bring a finite mindset to an infinite game,” Sinek at during an interview with Pershing Advisor Solutions CEO Mark Tibergien at INSITE. “In business, organizations that do this have met their demise.”

Sinek gave the example of Microsoft having a finite mindset when its focus was limited to beating Apple. Meanwhile, Apple has been looking at ways to improve education and other fields, rather than what’s happening in the short term. “Again, the goal is to outlast the competition and not to beat them.”

Small businesses, like those of advisory firms, “have huge opportunities,” according to Sinek, “because they have the flexibility and agility to really explain to someone what is important [about their work for clients] and why this is so important that you went into the industry.” If the focus is on making money, then the business is being driven by ambition and “the core of the business can’t have [much] client loyalty,” he said.

Sinek also pointed out the critical role referrals play in professional services, like wealth and health care. “I asked people I know, ‘Who do you work with? What do you listen for? And who do you trust?’ We trust friends around their [work with] professionals. That says a lot.”

Advisors’ opportunity for success depends on treating clients well — the way non-financial firms like Southwest Airlines and Ritz-Carlton do. The advisors he met and chose not to work with “did not ask about who I am and about my mentality [about money]. Talk to me differently and in metaphors, not a spreadsheet,” Sinek explained. “Now I have an accountant who talks in pictures and metaphors. He listens.”

Overall, the wealth industry “can do a lot better job at explaining its purpose and cause,” he said. “Don’t just say you’ll help my retirement. That’s transactional.”

Janet Levaux is editor-in-chief of Investment Advisor. She can be reached at [email protected].