By Bryan Orr
Henry Ford was an extraordinary man by all accounts. Not only did he make the automobile affordable for the common working man, but he also ushered in a new way of thinking about what a factory could be. Henry was a strong leader who was willing to think outside the box to see what was possible.
But Henry had a fatal flaw. He couldn’t keep from competing with his leadership team; never more apparent than with his strained relationship with his son Edsel. Henry loved his son and even respected him for some of his strengths. Henry once said “Edsel is the artist in our family. Art is something I know nothing about.”
The Model T was Henry’s pet project and really did revolutionize the industry but by the mid-1920s, it was not as sleek as its competitors. Edsel pushed Henry to design a new model, and Henry resisted for several years before succumbing and allowing the development of the Model A. Henry begrudgingly allowed Edsel to head up the design of the body of the Model A, but still took any chance he could to belittle Edsel. At one point, Edsel was technically the President of Ford, but Henry gave him little more than puppet authority.
In one now-infamous incident, Edsel began work on a foundation for a new office building that was to house the accounting and and sales departments. When Henry saw the excavation for the building, he flew into a rage about the “excess” of the project and by some reports fired the entire accounting department in one day. Not only did he force the project to end, he left the excavation an open pit to further humiliate Edsel and remind others who the real boss was.
In subsequent years, the Ford company saw a mass exodus from their senior leadership team. Many of these ex-Ford employees went on to work for competitors or start their own successful businesses.
Tragically, Edsel died at age 49 from complications of stomach ulcers, likely helped along by his caustic relationship with his father. All the way until Edsel’s passing, Henry was often heard criticizing his son’s lifestyle and health choices. Henry’s great error was failing to curb his competitive appetite within his own organization. The same fire that made him who he was and led him to his early success, resulted in conflict within his own organization, and some would say even resulted in Edsel’s untimely death.
At some point, we begin to develop leaders within our organizations. When that time comes we are faced with a choice to either support them or compete with them. The tough part is we often can do the job better and faster than our employees and this is our moment of truth: Either we can find ways to support them to success without competing with them, or we will find ourselves doing their job for them and undermining their progress and confidence, or worse, humiliating them and driving them away.
We all make a choice to either reserve the wins for ourselves, or share them with others. It is almost never easy, but in order to keep good leaders around it is necessary.
Have you ever found yourself competing with your leaders?