Henry Ford is known not only as a leader but a revolutionist and innovator. This man overturned the history of business and the process of mass production with the introduction of the assembly line. He was the first who used the ideas of sub-divided labor and mass production. His style of leadership has been interested in other businessmen for a long time as far as there may be the secret of his success and popularity. The present research paper focuses on the analysis of Henry Ford’s leadership relating it to some facts from his biography.
Henry Ford was born in Michigan in 1863 and spent his childhood at the local farm. When he achieved his juvenile age he expressed his dislike to the farm and school and as the result, he left school at the age of 16 and moved to Detroit looking for a job as a machinist. He dreamed of producing cars that would be available for people at affordable prices. He expressed his dream in the following words: “I will build a motor car for the multitude. It shall be large enough for the family, but small enough for the unskilled individual to operate easily and care for, and it shall be light in weight and it may be economical in maintenance.
It will be built of honest materials, by the best workmen that money can hire, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it shall be so low in price that the man of moderate means may own one and enjoy with his family the blessings of happy hours spent in God’s great open spaces.” (Henry Ford – a Great Innovator). Later he got married to Clara and they had one child. He became an engineer at Edison Illuminating Company. One of his best friends at that time was Thomas Edison who inspired him in his innovations and experiments. One of his first innovations was the model T produced in 1908 (Bak, 2003). His first creation already demonstrated his talent and had great success.
Characterizing Henry Ford’s qualities as a leader, let us base our analysis on the leadership skills provided by Kouzes and Posner. These skills are “modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging a process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the act” (Crandall, 2005). Henry Ford demonstrated all these skills in practice having success all over the world.
Henry Ford was known for his friendly relationships with his workers. He always appreciated his workers. He raised their wages up to $5 a day. High wages and good working conditions attract a lot of professional engineers to his company. Everyone wanted to work in such a working atmosphere where every worker felt to be necessary and valuable. Henry Ford strove to demonstrate his attitude to his workers by means of wages or other methods of recognition and respectfulness.
The professional work of Ford’s employees provided qualified goods and guaranteed high profits. Henry Ford used different methods in order to retain highly qualified workers. He gave bonuses to the wages and other benefits including free medical treatment and training programs. As the result, the company became very popular and had success (Ford and Samuel, 2003). He established the department of welfare sociology in his company in mid-1910 for researching his employees’ characteristics, skills, and social attitudes. On the one hand, this department was valuable for workers, and on the other hand, it helped Ford to control his workers.
More than that, the studies help to increase the quality of work, improve the layout of the plant and improve working conditions. More than that, he provided sports facilities for his workers such as fields and playgrounds. He said, “I want the whole organization dominated by a just, generous and humane policy” (Henry Ford – a Great Innovator). The Ford Company was known for its friendly policy and many employees dreamed of working at this company at that time.
Ford’s success depended on his high self-belief. More than that, he aimed at passing this high self-belief to his workers. Really, his self-belief was infectious. He hired those employees who did not think in an ordinary way and believed that there was nothing impossible in the world. The belief in human forces was the secret of his success. Everything that seemed impossible for other people Ford considered to be real with the help of the human brain and hands.
As a leader, Ford was very industrious and he established a pattern for his workers. He believed that human beings are created for work and only work made a human being different from other creations of the world. He knew that good results might be achieved only with the help of hard-working. He did not work with lazy people and he hired those who were ready to work hard and effectively. Although the employees had to work had they did not complain as far as they admired his leader and their hard work was paid in an appropriate way.
Henry Ford demonstrated great characteristics as a leader. The evidence of his talent was the popularity of the Ford Company all over the world. He constructed a T model which was in demand at the world market and changed people’s attitude to cars. Cars were considered not only as a means of transportation but as status symbols. As the result, nearly half of all cars in the USA were Ford’s models. He sold nearly 15,5 million cars in the USA. Every American dreamed of driving Ford’s T model. His methods of production including the ideas of mass production with the help of an assembly line and the division of labor were used by other companies.
Henry Ford believed in consumerism. He considered international trade and cooperation as one of the means to achieve international peace (Wilkins, 1964). He was one of the wealthiest and outstanding people in the world. He understood that money was the feedback of the qualified work that is why his workers were not poor people. When he noticed the effect of employee turnover in his company he increased their wages up to $5 per day and reduced their working day to 8 hours from 9 hours. He established three working shifts. These means helped him to solve this problem. It was not difficult for him to do such changes as we can conclude from Iacocca’s words: “Because Ford had lowered his costs per car, the higher wages didn’t matter — except for making it feasible for more people to buy cars” (Gunderson, 2009).
Henry Ford’s style of leadership is considered to be the dictatorial one. He ran the company with single-handedness and it sometimes cost him a lot. Even when his T model was ousted by new models produced by other rival companies he did not want to change something. Many critiques consider such a way of behavior to be not a reasonable one. They have concluded that Henry Ford destroyed his own company in such a way he created it (Brinkley and Douglas, 2003).
His dictatorial style of leadership is expressed in the strict control of all areas of the life of his workers. He monitored employees’ activities outside the workplace. Henry Ford was resolute in his decisions and it was impossible to change his mind or influence his point of view. When he was asked to create a special model for wealthy people Ford refused to do it as far as he considered this way of the development of the company to be wrong. The primary aim of his company was to produce qualitative cars for affordable prices and he did not change his mind. He defined the policy and the main aims of his company and he never changed them.
Henry Ford admired Adolf Hitler’s style of leadership. There was no wonder that his own style was dictatorial. At the same time, Hitler admired Ford’s innovations and he hung a picture of Ford on the wall. Ford’s points of view were considered anti-Semitic in the 1920s. As the result, this factor played an important role in Ford’s falling.
Henry Ford disliked any form of union. He did not want to unite with other companies and he refused his workers to establish trade unions. He hired police and spies to control his workers. He believed that such unions were harmful to the development of the company because of the failure of the cooperation of two leaders. The leader should be unique in the company in order to achieve success.
Henry Ford is a famous passionate leader. Passion does not denote loudness it means depth. Ford never gave up; he always kept going despite his failures and inspired his workers with his self-esteem and passion (Andersen, 2011).
More than that, many critiques consider his style of leadership to be a transformational one. The characteristics of the transformational leader are developing new ideas, adapting to situations, and permanent changes. Nevertheless, this point of view is judged by the fact that Henry Ford did not want to change his T model for twenty years and as the result, he lost in the competitive market. Nevertheless, taking into account all the changes and innovations produced by him he may be considered to be a transformational leader.
Moreover, he was a charismatic leader as far as he was liked and respected by his workers. His workers always obeyed and admired him. Ford used different means to achieve the workers’ sympathy as we have already described before in our research. High wages and the best working conditions for that time helped Ford to be the most popular leader.
Characterizing Henry Ford as a transformational leader, Bernard Bass points out his main traits such as credibility, idealized influence, inspired motivation, individualized consideration, and intellectual consideration (Exemplary Leader – Henry Ford). His aim of life and hard-working were infectious for his workers. He was able to inspire hundreds of people and make them follow and support him. People who knew him whether they were his friends, workers, investors, or even other famous people felt the greatness of this man (Chandy). Ford was very motivating for his workers.
He used different means of motivation namely the speeches inspiring the workers, the rewards, and working conditions. It was an honor for every employee to work at the Ford Company. Ford’s intellectual stimulation was his dream and his desire to realize it. His way of thinking is considered to be a purely transformational one. He was the first who took the risk of the revolution in the production with the introduction of the assembly line in mass production and he did not lose.
Henry Ford is criticized for his “segregation of the assembly process into thoughtless recurring tasks” making his workers robots (Henry Ford – a Great Innovator). With the introduction of the assembly line, the work of people became mechanical and did not require special professional skills.
Ford’s leadership style and his vision of manufacturing cars were his Achilles Heel. Although Ford achieved a lot in organizing the process of producing cars under one roof and the company controlled the process of car-building and the production of raw materials overseas, the Model T had success during twenty years but then Ford was criticized for the lack of ideas as far as his T Model remained unchangeable for these twenty years. He did not want even to change its color (Gunderson, 2009).
The lack of forwarding planning and contingency were Ford’s weak points. Henry Ford’s orientation at the dream inspired him to build his company on the one hand and hampered him from the adaptation to the demands of change on the other hand. His dream was to create “A world in which cars are for everyone” and he had success in the realization of this dream with the help of his leadership qualities (Exemplary Leader – Henry Ford).
Many critiques consider one of main Ford’s weaknesses is his dictatorship. His dictatorial style of leadership caused the downfall of his company. He refused to change his T model according to new innovations but he sold it for high prices. It was not profitable for his business as far as his company did not stand the competition of other developed car companies (Nevins and Frank, 1962).
Another disadvantage of his leadership was his hate for Jews. This anti-semitic policy eliminated a lot of customers and as the result, the rival car companies had more customers and more profits. Nevertheless, Henry Ford did not want to change his point of view only because of his customers (Allan and Hill, 1957).
From the above said, we may conclude that Henry Ford was a great leader. His style of leadership has been characterized as an exemplary, transformational, passionate, charismatic, and dictatorial one. This man had a dream and he made other people believe in his dream. Although his style of dictatorship had a number of weak points his strengths testify to the fact that this leader was really great and strong. Ford’s style of leadership has become an example for many present businessmen. It has become the subject of hundred types of research as far as the secret of Ford’s success was not only in his talent but in his style of dictatorship.
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