Developing-Leaders-issue - 23- Spring - 2016

Executive Development Developing Leaders Issue 23: 2016 | 47 Starting what was likely the roller coaster ride of a lifetime, Barra embraced the multitude of challenges the CEO role presented, marshalled her team and resources, and successfully avoided whatever glass cliff may have been on the horizon. In the process, she deployed what I like to call ‘leadership jiu-jitsu’ by tapping her deep knowledge of GM to both activate and direct the positive energy of her people. Ultimately, she helped lead the company out of the public relations crisis and established herself as the respected head of the global automaker. Today, two years later, she has been rewarded with another promotion: The combined role of Chairman and CEO. As a company, the investment GM made in Barra has paid off. Starting her career there at age 18, Barra earned her engineering degree from General Motors Institute, a college owned by GM at the time. The company then sent Barra to Stanford University where she earned an MBA. In addition to helping build her academic credentials, GM also offered Barra a wide range of professional opportunities: Plant Manager, Detroit Hamtramck Assembly; Executive Vice President of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain; Vice President of Global Manufacturing Engineering; Executive Director of Competitive Operations Engineering; and Vice President of Global Human Resources. Being too close to a situation (or knowing an organization too well) can sometimes become a handicap. In Barra’s case, it would seem she turned her closeness into a real strategic advantage. For example, when asked why she reduced GM’s corporate dress code from 10 pages to ‘dress appropriately’ while she was running human resources, Barra told an interviewer: “It really became a window into the change that we needed to make at General Motors…I can trust you with $10 million of budget and supervising 20 people, but I can’t trust you to dress appropriately? It was kind of a step in empowering…so this really encouraged people to step up.” Barra took her understanding of the specific environment at GM and was able to capture the kinetic energy within the system to create positive movement and change. Leadership Lesson #1 Keep it honest and keep it simple