Author Archive for Ellen Bryson

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Sergio Marchionne, an Exemplary Leader

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 by Ellen Bryson

In December of 2011, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat and Chrysler, was awarded the Dwight D. Eisenhower Global Leadership award from the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU). BCIU recognized Marchionne for his unprecendented success at turning around two automotive car makers in the last decade; first Fiat, then Chrysler. No small feat.

In less than two years after taking the reins at each company, both returned to profitability. When Marchionne assumed the role of CEO at Chrysler in 2008, most in the car industry thought he was crazy. Chrysler seemed headed for bankruptcy, but Marchionne and Fiat drove a hard bargain to take control of the company. Marchionne had a compelling vision and saw how Chrysler could complete the Fiat product range to make it a more global company.

Marchionne epitomizes great leadership! Chrysler returned to profitability in the first quarter of 2011, repaid its $6 billion high interest government loan in May…six years ahead of schedule, and hit sales of over $55 billion by the end of 2011. Plants were modernized, Fiat and Chrysler operations were integrated, and the management structure was flattened somewhat. Not only did Marchionne restore Chrysler to profitability, he changed the culture. The company went from being a bureaucratic organization run from the Chairman’s office to an innovative culture focused on quality and execution where the CEO builds the cars with the guys on the floor! Now that’s transformational!

If you are like me, I’m sometimes skeptical about what I read or hear in the media, so I decided to check out the situation at Chrysler with someone on the inside to see if the culture really is different, and this is what I learned from Scott Bahr, a friend that has recently returned to Chrysler after four years away. “Yes, this is a good time to be at Chrysler. Morale is very high, and there is an earnest desire company-wide for people to “push the envelope” toward improvement. Bureaucracies and “old ways” will always be present in an organization of this size, but I am impressed by how much we are developing a culture of not being limited by those things and even openly questioning them. It’s one of the things that won me over to coming back here.” This confirms it for me. I hope it does for you. Sergio Marchionne is a great leader and a man we can all learn from.

To get inspired in your role as a leader and learn how Sergio orchestrated the Chrysler resurgence, listen to his recent interview with Sixty Minutes. It’s about 14 minutes long, but worth your time.


The Wrong Purpose

Monday, February 20th, 2012 by Ellen Bryson

Unless your employees clearly understand and buy into your company’s reason for existence, they will eventually lose any passion they have for your work and ultimately leave your organization. Today’s workers want more than a paycheck; they want connection to something bigger than themselves. They want to know how their talents contribute to the successful realization of a shared vision. If they don’t find it at your company, they will seek it elsewhere. Based on the evidence of today’s highly transitory workforce, it seems they do not often find it at their next stop, either. In short, those companies who are able to align their employees around a clearly articulated purpose seize a distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace.

All purposes are not created equal, however. While there is no “right” purpose, I suspect there is a wrong one: financial performance. When growth becomes your purpose, trouble is not far away.  Is financial performance important? Of course! But it is the result, not the cause, of serving customers well.

For more on this topic, check out my recently published article: “Should Financial Performance Driver Your Culture?”


Beware! Servant Leadership Does Not a Weak Leader Make.

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 by Ellen Bryson

Recently, I was involved in discussions about a leader’s ability to perform his job effectively. He has difficulty creating the vision, fighting for what he believes is right, and managing and developing his staff. Someone in the group spoke up and said they viewed him as a servant leader. Sadly, this view implies that servant leaders are weak. The comment was really made because the leader is always trying to please everyone above all else.

Regardless of your leadership style, a leader must be able to influence others toward accomplishing a goal and inspire them to follow. You cannot be a leader if no one will follow you. Some people are natural born leaders; others learn to become leaders by study, practice, reflecting and learning from others.

Servant leaders practice the following:

  • Model the way
  • Assume followers to be partners
  • Develop and empower others
  • Use their heart as well as their head in decision making
  • Self starters
  • Set high goals; create action plans; execute for results
  • Make the hard decision; when things go wrong they take the blame; when things go right they give others credit
  • Not interested in having their own way, but finding the right way
  • Humble spirits

Servant leadership is widely practiced in the 21st century. It is about creating an environment that gets the best out of people. Southwest Airlines is a great example of a company that practices servant leadership; check out Gary’s Greeting (Southwest CEO Gary Kelly) and see it in action.


Becoming a Courageous Leader

Friday, December 16th, 2011 by Ellen Bryson

Courage is one of the primary characteristics we need to possess to be an effective leader.  It is an attitude that helps us deal with anything we recognize as difficult or possibly dangerous without withdrawing from it. Possessing this skill is especially important during times of uncertainty or adversity when fear of the unknown can hold us back or immobilize us. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in spite of it.

As I reflect on this statement and think about business leaders in the 21st century, Steve Jobs comes to mind. Jobs exemplified courageous leadership. He was a visionary; he was passionate about his dream and he pursued it every day. He overcame great personal and professional adversity during his career, but never lost sight of his goal to make the world’s best PC. Jobs dreamed big, took lots of risks, inspired others to follow him, overcame obstacles, and delivered a new way to work and play to millions of people around the world. He demonstrated courageous leadership!

Following are some lessons taken from Jobs’ example that can assist you in honing this skill:
1.  Dare to dream big dreams. Believe in your ideas. Embrace your values and vision and let them be your guide.
2.  Persevere, never give up!
3.  Define who you want to be as a leader and commit yourself to doing the things necessary to achieve that reality.
4.  Develop skills that enable you to act quickly and deliberately.
5. Develop a plan, but remember, a good plan is not enough; it requires action. Execution produces sustainable results.
6.  Take calculated risks. Accept failures or setbacks as learning opportunities. Mistakes are our greatest teacher.
7.  Keep pursuing your dream.
8.  Deliver results.

Stephen Covey said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Courage isn’t a characteristic that you are born with. It is one that has to be developed or created through experience. As you develop as a leader, mastering this trait will help you define your way.


Are You Operating Your Company on Autopilot?

Monday, November 28th, 2011 by Ellen Bryson

Do you ever wonder what your company would look like if you had to start over from scratch? As year-end approaches, this is a healthy question for you and your team to consider. The world is in a constant state of flux. The U.S. economy has slowed, global markets are in chaos, financial requirements are more stringent and debt is harder to secure; employees are seeking more work/life balance and costs are rising. All of these things have an impact on your business. If, you are not continually evaluating the landscape and reengineering your business to meet the needs of your customers, you run the risk of losing market share to your competitors.

As part of your annual planning process, consider devoting time to research your customer’s needs and perceptions about your products and services. Evaluate your market position. Is it appropriate? What actions are your competitors taking to strengthen their value proposition with your customers? Are you providing the products and services your customers desire? Do you have the right people with the right skill sets on board? Is your organizational structure aligned with your business strategy/financial plan?

Uncovering answers to these questions requires time and effort and should be supported by data and fact, not gut feeling or people’s perceptions. Assign specific research to each team member. Expect that time will be spent prior to the planning session to gather data, summarize and evaluate results. Expect recommendations for consideration based on the findings. Only after this information is known and understood are you in a position to utilize it in the development of your strategy.

In addition to providing a solid foundation for strategy development, this exercise provides an opportunity for employee development by strengthening the leadership skills of those involved in the activity. It provides an opportunity for employees to challenge the status quo and enables teams to bring an innovative and fresh approach to the business which should substantially enhance the company’s position in the market.

Disengage your autopilot today. Challenge your leadership team to become active participants in the process and watch your company soar through 2012!


Preview: Is Financial Performance a Core Culture?

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 by Ellen Bryson

The following is an excerpt from an article by CEO Advantage advisor Ellen Bryson.  The full article is scheduled to appear in the upcoming 4th edition of The CEO Advantage Journal. 

While there is no “right” purpose, I suspect there is a wrong one: financial performance.  When growth becomes your purpose, trouble is not far away.  McDonald’s discovered this in the late 1990s when they shifted their focus from “QSCV” (quality, service, cleanliness, and value) to building more restaurants.  By early 2000, McDonald’s had more than 28,000 restaurants with annual revenues in excess of $15 billion.  Two years later, they experienced their first quarterly loss since 1954. 

Starbucks had a similar experience.  In Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, Howard Schultz shares how Starbucks lost its focus.  In effect, growth became their purpose.  Schultz says that financial growth is not a strategy; it’s a tactic.  He admits that when Starbucks began pursuing undisciplined growth as a strategy, their culture crumbled and they lost their way.  Ironically, the financial performance they were pursuing eluded them when it became their chief focus. 

 …In their book The Discipline of Market Leaders, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema talk about three distinct operational models: customer intimacy, innovation, and operational excellence.  In my experience as an advisor to CEOs and executive teams, I have seen each of these manifested as the driving force of culture.  I have never seen a thriving company with a culture centered on its own financial performance ahead of serving the customer.  Is financial performance important?  Of course!  But it is the result, not the cause, of serving customers well.