Exactly a week ago I covered the news conference where Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford announced the bloodletting naming of new CEO Jim Hackett and other management changes at the Blue Oval. What struck me, besides how fast the deposed CEO, Mark Fields was shown the door to the Glass House, was one of the roles Ford said he would play in the new regime. Ford put it succinctly in a story for my current workplace Automotive News, saying “”I plan to be very active with Jim as a thought-partner.”
A few years ago, when I headed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles digital communications team, I was asked to appear on a panel in Chicago to discuss “thought leaders.” Now I’m not sure that “thought partner” and “thought leader” are much different from each other except a “thought partner” may not have cogent enough thoughts to be a “thought leader,” although I would think as executive chairman of a giant automaker, Bill Ford’s thoughts must be considered “leading.” One of the reasons given for the dismissal of Mark Fields was the nearly 40 percent drop in Ford’s share price since he took over a little more than three years ago. One would think the man whose name is on the building would have contributed some leading thoughts on how to stop that slide. Apparently not. But as a “thought partner” to the new CEO perhaps it means he will now share the responsibility of thinking up stuff to keep the automaker afloat.
Honestly, a term such as “thought partner” reminds me of when I gave my “thought leaders” presentation. I refused to use that term because to me it’s just another one of those cute little phrases those who consider themselves leaders in thinking think up to build themselves up and then write books that are obsolete by the time they are published. See my previous blog post re self-help books.
I like to encourage those who work for me and with me to always be thinking of new, better and more creative ways to accomplish our goals. Some are stronger thinking artistically while others are especially adept on the business side. There are some folks who can think in pictures and abstract concepts. You’ll always find people who seem to be more literal but are nonetheless leading thinkers on that plane. That’s why you have to empower colleagues and teammates to come forth with their thoughts since it’s not uncommon for the best, fully-baked ideas to rise from a recipe that includes combining dollops of collective thoughts. If you can make that happen, then the true “thought leaders” are actually groups of “thought partners” working together.