If you’re interested in moving up the ranks and increasing your responsibility; here’s a great opportunity to fine tune your management and leadership skills:

In an article in the New York Times, the new boss of General Motors is featured. The question asked is, can a company man, with 25 years in that company, who was mentored by the recently-turfed former boss turn around this company?

Clearly, Fritz Henderson believes he can. But many doubt it. Citing the example of Alan Mulally, the former Boeing exec who seems to be helping Ford become a truly world-class organization, pundits are saying that GM needs an outsider who doesn’t carry the same baggage of someone who grew up in the organization.

For anyone in a leadership position, it will be – at least from a case study perspective – very interesting to watch his actions/results over the next 18 months.

What’s your bet?

Some things to noodle:

Great leaders, like great surgeons, have a whole bag full of tools they can use. Invariably, they also have a rich background, full of successful experiences. Often, they’ve had to overcome challenges that were too great for others.

That’s not to say that one cannot learn to become a great leader. They surely can. But to do so requires the individual to be incredibly open to continuous learning. I’m pointing at the type of person who recognizes that continued growth requires ongoing upgrades. Those special managers who, despite being busy already, always manage to find the time to take the necessary steps to grow and improve. My guess is that translates to no more than about 15% of the top management across most organizations. The rest may talk about it, but they rarely seem to actually make the time needed to learn and mature as leaders.

Let’s face it, today, in most situations leadership is a contact sport. In large companies, small organizations, and start-ups; this means that you need to be acutely perceptive and you can’t act like a hothead. And you’ve got the guts to show the courage of your convictions.

The boss needs to be able to take feedback from those close to them – without taking it too “personally”. (S)he has to be able to roll with the punches, dust themself off, and get back into the game quickly. And with renewed enthusiasm. I’ve known the GM company since 1993 and I believe that a leader could develop all of these traits while working there, like Henderson has been.

In companies that are in a fight for life or death, the department heads usually epitomize the adage that there’s no “we” in the words senior leadership team. Sibling rivalry, vanity, personal interests, jealousy are often characteristics of the senior team members of any organization. These traits, and those who own them, can torpedo even a great leader’s aspirations.

The boss may not even see it. He may be getting a lot of smiles and nods from the team, while they are stifling his plans. Those who can deal with such truly passive aggressive behavior usually have a lot experience. They’ve seen it before in other environments and teams. They can sense it and then overcome it.

So GM’s size and diversity probably provided all the depth that Henderson needs.

Regardless of the size of your team, or the business sector you’re in, there’s an ongoing need to learn these lessons. If you plan to succeed in any environment with multiple personalities, the GM situation can become a great case study to watch closely.


Leadership Coach