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Success Depends on Your Team: Tap the Potential

Take it from Ford's Alan Mulally. Leaders who look for talent, nurture it, and give it authority are ones who achieve.

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Wise leaders look at what an employee can do rather than what he cannot do.

When Alan Mulally became CEO of Ford Motor Company in September 2006, it was expected among senior executives that some, if not many, would lose their jobs. Mulally was an outsider, hired from Boeing for his expertise in turning around big organizations.

But according to Bryce Hoffman's riveting account, American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company, the newly appointed CEO did just the opposite. He chose to keep nearly all the top leaders despite being warned by some on the board as well as inside the company that infighting might cripple turnaround efforts.

Mulally was not disheartened, nor did he opt to hire many from the outside like himself. He dug down into the ranks to discover new talent that had been under-utilized. He also realized that some of these folks simply needed a new opportunity and, if sufficiently motivated, they would rise to the challenge. And they did. Today Ford is sharply back in the black and is considered the most respected automaker in the world.

The lesson for leaders who evaluate people--that is, every leader--is to adopt a "glass half full" versus a "glass half empty" attitude. Sometimes, as happened at Ford, employees become beaten up by the system and they stop trying, or at least stop thinking creatively, and acting courageously. They go through the motions. It therefore falls to the leader to "wake them up" to tap into their potential.

Mulally's story is not limited to executives just like himself. All leaders have an opportunity to mine the talent of their organizations.

An executive who is evaluating talent should ask three questions about the individual:

1.    Does this person have the skills to do the job?

Most importantly, a staffer must be competent and fluent in the discipline he is being asked to manage. Competency is not simply a matter of knowing how to do the job now, but also how to do it when the job evolves into new responsibilities.

2.    What has been holding him back from achieving?

This question gets at roadblocks. Often people have been held down, or mismanaged in such a way that they have yet to prove themselves. Their skills have been sidelined due to an inept boss or simply a lack of opportunity. It is important to explore this question deeply to decide if the candidate has what it takes to undertake new responsibilities.

3.    What can I do to help him succeed?

A leader must engage in the employee development process to help unleash the individual talents. Sometimes this is simple. Delegate the authority and responsibility and watch the executive succeed. Other times it will take the form of coaching, and regularly meeting with the individual to discuss her progress, and the challenges she is facing.

There is one more important step: support from the boss. A senior leader needs to express confidence in newly promoted individuals to assure them he has their backs. Mulally is a master of this; he instilled confidence in his team by discussing his confidence in them.

There is also case for people who must be let go. Some at Ford were not on board with Mulally's One Ford plan and opted out. Fine. Companies going through a re-invention or reinvigoration need more than compliance; they need commitment. If an executive is not fully committed to the new direction it is better that he or she leave.

Talent is not a commodity. It is the lifeblood of the enterprise and those leaders who look for it, nurture it, and seek to capitalize on it are ones who achieve their objectives.

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Last updated: May 31, 2012

JOHN BALDONI | Columnist | President, Baldoni Consulting

John Baldoni is the president of Baldoni Consulting, an executive coaching firm. John speaks widely on leadership and has written 10 leadership books; his newest is Lead With Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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