LEE JACOCCA: AN AMERICAN LEGEND
Lee Iacocca, the son of Italian immigrants, rose spectacularly through the ranks of Ford Motor Company to become its president, only to be toppled eight years later in a power struggle with Henry Ford II. After being fired from Ford, however, he immediately went to Chrysler Corporation and led that company back from the brink of financial disaster by convincing the United States government to provide Chrysler with a $1.2 billion loan guarantee. Iacocca has been heralded as the epitome of an effective modern leader by the authors of a book about leaders.
He provided the leadership to transform a company from bankruptcy to success. He created a vision of success and mobilized large factions of key employees to align behind that vision. Almost exclusively because of Iacocca’s leadership, by 1983 Chrysler made a pro6t, boosted employee morale, and helped employees generate a sense of meaning in their work. He empowered them. In Fact, we believe that Iacocca’s high visibility symbolizes the missing element in management today his style of leadership is central to organizational successful. Because of his success in rescuing Chrysler and the highly visible role he played in restoring the Statue of Liberty, Iacocca became a media celebrity and an American folk hero. During the 1988 presidential campaign, many People urged him to run for the presidency. Public opinion polls confirmed his popularity and showed that he was a viable political candidate until he withdrew himself by saying, ‘And if drafted, [shall not run.’2
Lee Iacocca is described as a big man with an imposing presence. He stands 6’1” and weighs 194 pounds. His facial features and personal mannerisms have led one author to describe him as a ‘Florentine prince.” A biography of Iacocca attributed his leadership ability to six character traits:
The ability to break away from rigid, stereotyped thinking and use upbeat, energetic approaches to problem solving.
His realism and courage.
His devotion to homework by being thorough, careful, and well informed.
His aggressive curiosity.
His uncommon capacity for personal growth.
His ability to surround himself with people possessing strong personality ties without being intimidated or threatened by them.4
In his autobiography, Iacocca describes three key elements that contributed significantly to his successful leadership. First, Iacocca believed that he was extraordinarily effective in motivating people because he knew them well, he expressed sincere appreciation for their contributions, and he provided a vision for them of where the company was going. Second, Iacocca developed a quarterly review system that focused the energies of his people on successful goal accomplishment. Every three months, Iacocca required his managers to submit specific written goals and objectives and then, in a face-to-face, MBO type interview, he required them to explain how they planned to achieve the goals. Finally, Iacocca believed in being decisive. Although he was a strong advocate of being well informed and gathering all the facts before making a decision, he also argued that if you waited until you had 100 percent of the facts, the opportunity would have passed. Although he liked to be fully informed, he was not afraid to go with his gut feeling and he did not rely on committee* decisions. Iacocca’s definition of management by consensus was, “Consensus, is when we have a discussion. They tell me what they want, then I decide.”
Leadership is an extremely popular topic in organizational behavior because of the role we assume it plays in group and organizational effectiveness. We assume that the success of a group depends primarily on the quality of leadership. To have a winning season requires a good coach; to achieve a military victory commander; and to have a productive work group requires a supervisor. Whether they deserve it or not, leaders are usually...
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