How Alan Mullally Drive One Ford

How Alan Mulally Drives One Ford

Few know the true power of message discipline better than Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company. Message Discipline is a powerful term. It embodies the importance of words. You’ll find, when executed properly, that it also optimizes operational discipline. Plus, it’s the critical main ingredient for getting followers to consistently execute on leadership’s strategy.

Mulally took over the reins at Ford in 2006. He had already turned Boeing around. Now, Ford had run out of gas and he was facing an even bigger transformation to fuel. Right from the start, Mulally made it clear that message discipline was going to play a major role in his leadership approach.

Creating an Organization that Works Together as “One Ford.”


One of Mulally’s first moves was sending a letter to every employee. It outlined his vision and expectations for everyone working at Ford. Part of his message was delivered on a laminated card. It captured three top business expectations:

1) A skilled and motivated workforce — The PEOPLE Priority

2) Detailed customer knowledge and focus — The PRODUCTS Priority

3) A lean global enterprise — The PRODUCTIVITY Priority

On the other side of the card, it simply said: “One Ford.”

Mulally’s vision was defined, declared and delivered. Ford’s new direction was communicated in a way that was designed to connect The Leadership Team with The People while creating a clear picture of The Roles they would play going forward.

Great Leaders need to be or become Great Communicators.

There must be no question, no doubt and no mistaking what leadership is trying to say or accomplish. Mulally delivered a message that was clear, simple and inspiring, which was smartly crafted to rally significant support around a cause.

Mulally doesn’t mince words. When he delivers messages like these, you get the point AND you know where you stand…

“Everybody says you can’t make money off small cars. Well, you’d better damn well figure out how to make money because that’s where the world is going.”

“You have too many meetings. When do you have time to think about the customer?”

“It is about people working together for the good of all of us.”

When you deliver messages that resonate with people, you’ll have a much higher success rate of driving that message home companywide. Getting people to hear your message is only the beginning. The real objective is getting them to line up behind it. When they do that, you know your message discipline is working.

Mulally’s Messages Move People.


Effective message discipline flows smoothly through the ranks. Here’s a peek into how Mulally surrounds his messages with discipline…

Every Thursday Morning: 8:00 — Business Plan Review meeting with direct reports. Every functional discipline attends. Before he arrived, they didn’t. Or as he says…

“Everybody in this place had to be involved and had to know everything.”

Post Meeting Message Momentum — Once the message is understood and responsibilities acknowledged, senior managers meet with their respective departments.

Result: Top-Down Message Transmission Accomplished.


You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t kill the messenger.” What would make someone want to do that? Messages that aren’t clear and sincere are guaranteed to create deadly actions — even unintentionally. Left untreated, poor message discipline sends a different kind of message — one that often translates to rebellion, resistance or revolt.

So, the real discipline now comes with consistently supporting your message in everything you say and do. Your words and your actions are now the message vehicle. Mulally is one CEO who knows how to drive — and steer— that vehicle at high speed.

*Reference American Icon — source book.

Bio_rose2Rose is the CEO at fassforward consulting group. She blogs about Leadership, Change, Culture and Chocolate Conversations at

You can follow her on twitter @rosefass.

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