The 2 Ways That a Former Ford CEO Built Trust & Rose To The Top

By James Mills, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International

Building trust with a diverse range of people is what facilitates rapid career progression.

Mark Fields is a former CEO of Ford Motor Company; the company founded back in 1903 by Henry Ford. In an interview for the Fort Knox podcast, he shared some of his personal philosophies that enabled him to move into a leadership position, directing the efforts of a multibillion dollar global organisation with around 200,000 employees!

If we want to make meaningful progress in our lives and careers (potentially even as a CEO), here are a couple of insights that we can all learn from...


Run To The Fire!

"I've always had the philosophy, always run to the fire. Run to those really challenging situations or businesses that you can learn a lot, but also contribute a lot."

This approach is very much born out of service, contribution and growth. It's because Mark Fields sees the opportunity for development and progress that comes from facing adversity head on that he reaps the rewards associated with this.

What he experienced was that his reputation became - that of someone who was able to resolve difficult problems - and hence was most likely to be promoted to more senior roles within Ford. Aged just 36, he was running Ford's operations in Argentina and became CEO of the Mazda Motor Corporation at 38. He was given these positions of responsibility because he had earned the trust of more senior executives through their belief that he was someone who was able to lead - in spite of uncertainty and difficult circumstances.

Make Sure The Sleeves Match The Cuffs.... Walk Your Talk!  

When taking on new projects and responsibilities, it was common for him to start working with a completely fresh group of people. There would, however, have been pressure to deliver from day one and so it would require everyone to trust him as a new leader.

So, what did he do to earn this trust from an established group of strangers? He would not focus on business strategy or ideas, but instead, he would take the time to introduce himself properly. This introduction was not just a handshake and "Hi, I'm Mark Fields". Instead, he would take half a day to run a session on who he was and what he values.

He explained why he did this:

"So from the get-go, people can say, 'Oh, OK, I kind of get the gist of this guy. And so once you get that out of the way, then you can get on with the work. And then importantly, I have to live up to what I talked about in terms of my leadership. Because if the sleeves don't match the cuffs, people just think you're trying to manipulate them."

This is an example of what living with integrity can actually mean in practice. To be able to invest this amount of time shows a level of self-awareness and it does indeed place the relationship first. It also demonstrates a trust in his ability to walk his talk, by sharing his own personal standards through which he (and the team) can assess his performance as a leader.

Where Trust Starts

At the heart of these two philosophies is a dedication to reality, self-awareness, integrity and discipline. To be able to earn the trust of others, we need to start this process by trusting our own strength and ability to face difficult situations.

Knowing and respecting the principles that underlie every situation we face is something that builds confidence in facing new and uncertain circumstances. When we commit to understanding and mastering the fundamentals of successful living, then we will naturally increase our abilities to succeed in every area of our lives. You can read more about and listen to Mark Fields' interview with Jon Fortt on this LinkedIn post.

If you'd like to learn about why trust will make or break any company, then you have to check out this insightful video from Simon Sinek!

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