I love the club where I exercise. I love to read the magazines I missed from weeks prior. Last Monday was no exception. Time Magazine's October 6 issue featured Mary Barra, the new CEO of General Motors.
The story starts with the fact that two weeks after assuming the leadership position, Barra faces the worst product recall in the auto industry's history. The ignition switch crisis has, at its roots, a problem with GM's relationship system. Individuals, believing that they were making a "part" and not a "part for an automobile" were not willing to identify problems outside the influence of their part's performance. It was called a crisis...
The article's focus is her leadership "presence" while standing knee deep in an organizational challenge. Her emotional skill set is the ability to think in the midst of challenge. She is respectful of the past, factual about the extent of the problem and an advocate for change in the future. She is also an insider who thinks like an outsider.
The reporter presents Mary's life by describing her trajectory from daughter of a GM employee, who worked at the Pontiac plant, to student at General Motors Institute, to electrical engineer, to GM management positions to CEO of the $150 billion company. Interestingly, this reporter looked beneath the surface and described Mary's ability to engender trust at the same time as projecting the need for change.
"She identifies with the past glory of GM's accomplishments, but she combines that appreciation with a deeply independent streak." This streak has her assessing the current situation with straightforward
appreciation for the mistakes that were made. She is considered an insider who respects where she came from AND a source for a new way of thinking.
As she remembers her many different jobs at GM, she speaks in this article of her effort to get people to take responsibility for themselves and to see where they fit into the larger system. She sees this shift to system thinking as fundamental to changing the company to one where information is not hoarded but shared.
Reading this makes me think about the process of defining a self in a system that one is a part of. Mary Barra has refused to speak badly about the past and those men who led. However, she is a passionate advocate for change and embraces her personal responsibility as the CEO as she works to set a new direction that "will make GM the company that I know it can be."
Mary Barra's example at GM is how I hope to function - Seeing myself as a part of a larger system, appreciating the system's past, accepting responsibility for my part and then acting with a creative clarity.