Lee Iacocca and Henry Ford II: Leadership Styles

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Leadership is the most outstanding aspect of any organization. There are several styles and theories of leadership which define the role of a leader. Visions and emotions affect the leadership effectiveness of a person. The undisputed definition of leadership is said to be the process of social influence where an individual helps and guides others in achieving a particular goal (Schauseil, 2009, p.1). It is the creation of a means for people to throw in their effort to seek a solution to something extraordinary. To make it big as far as leadership is concerned; one has to do things in a different way from what the masses do. Character traits such as Charisma, Patience, Vision, Values, Power, Intelligence and Situational Interaction are vital to this effect. This paper will analyze–compare and contrast the leadership styles and characters of two business leaders (Lee Iacocca and Henry Ford II) and how they managed to make it big with regard to leadership in their respective fields. Iacocca and Henry II not only demonstrated practically the concept of leadership, but also have written books to help those who would like to try their style.

Comparing and Contrasting Leadership Style, Behavior, and Characteristics of Lee Iacocca and Henry Ford II


Just as it has been mentioned above that leadership is the ability of a person to motivate a group of people towards the direction of achieving certain objectives, the same stood for the leaders in question. Several items have been proposed to help develop a person to acquire leadership skills. In (Schauseil, 2009, pp.1-2), it is reported that the skills required in leadership include the following seven C’s: Courage, Conviction, Communication, Charisma, Curiosity, Competence and Common sense. No person is born with the qualities that have just been listed hence, giving a vital prove that leaders can be made not born, contrary to what has been widely believed. The two leaders in this paper were spotted out of the large number of business leaders because of their ability to handle well their responsibilities during times of economic crises.

Lee Iacocca

Lee Iacocca is one of the most recognized businessmen in the world, his great business skills have seen him serve in several big business-related posts among which are the President and CEO of Chrysler Corporation and in other several government appointments. After graduating from Allentown High School, Iacocca proceeded to Lehigh University to study a degree course in Industrial Engineering. He began his professional work at Ford Motor Company in the Engineering field, but later switched to the Sales department where he believed his passion lay. His life in Ford gave him international recognition; he came up with several unique and profitable Automobile designs that made Ford cut a notch above others in the same field of business. When he later moved to Chrysler Corporation he applied his business leadership skills and helped the company which was on the verge of collapsing revert back to full operation (Snyder, 2009, p.22). Even though Iacocca comes out as a success story, we do establish that he had put so much trust in his partners and associates, he avoided by all means being at the center focus of the game, thus gave freedom to some of his subjects to shoulder responsibilities. Delegating duty to a less committed person may lead to eventual failure if the person responsible does not have the right skills for the job, or if he is just reluctant as evident in the Iacocca case (Lorsch, J. W et al. 1999, p.96-98).

Henry Ford II (HF II)

Henry Ford II (HF2) was one of the three sons of Edsel Ford and a grandson of the old Henry Ford. HF2 became the president of Ford Motor Company between the years 1945-1960 and assumed many other management positions in the Company after quitting his navy job upon the death of their father. He started from a simple position of an executive officer before the leadership skills in him were fully awakened (Lorsch, J. W et al. 1999, pp.99-105).


HFII had quite a firm aggressive management of leadership style, but one of his notable characters was the fact that he acknowledged his inexperience as he took over the management a fact which many leaders would never admit to. He fired those that he believed were non-performers and a burden to the Ford Company. He had a way of identifying competent leaders for hire…that is how he came to employ Lee Iacocca. His major duty in Ford Motor Company was supervision and coordination of different divisions within the organization. The role of Iacocca was to take the initiative and prove his worth with execution of the agreed steps. The two leaders though later differed over personal issues not on business grounds…the incident led to Iacocca being fired by Henry from the Company. Henry was once quieted saying “Sometimes you just don’t like someone” (Goldsmith, 2009, p.9). This incident was noted as a major failure on Henry’s side as it is never advisable to drag one’s personal affairs into business; business deals should be dealt with in a distinct manner if success is to be realized.

The older Henry’s (Henry Ford) failures are said to have come as a result of assuming the Autocratic style of leadership, assuming a one-man control over everything. HF2 was also slightly dominative, a trait he seemed to have taken from his grandfather. This contrasted with Iacocca’s style of leadership where he listened to his juniors as much as he spoke with them. Iacocca knew very well that in the sales department as well as in any leadership position, such behaviors a “a one man guitar” are a recipe to total disaster. When the business was doing so well HF2 became a prisoner of his own success, turning against some of his most trusted and brightest employees. On his part, Iacocca believed in going with the mass, but based his actions and decisions on facts; he knew that a business only stands a chance of growing if it has a large customer base (Snyder, 2009, pp.25-27).


Both of these two individuals showed the willingness to listen to people outside their line of business. They had a character of stepping out of their comfort zones in an attempt to learn more new concepts HF2 consulted widely and absorbed people he knew had more skills than him into the Company and so did Iacocca when he was put in charge of Chrysler. They took pride in knowing the more about their clients businesses. The numerous innovative ideas in the Ford Motor industry and those initiated by Lee in the Chrysler indicate the style of leadership of the two was one full of creativity. They showed a great success in managing the changes that they helped create. The gentlemen both had great conviction to move forward despite the challenges and differences in opinion between them…they really made a good pair working together…communicating and inspiring people all the way through made them remain at the top of credit in the world of business management. (Goldsmith, 2009, pp.72-75).

Both Henry and Iacocca were in quite different fields from business before they assumed full control of their respective business fields. Henry was in the Navy while Iacocca was in the Engineering Field, but this fact did not bar them from achieving it big in business. And just as Iacocca saved Chrysler, so did Henry save Ford when the company was losing over $10 million each month during its worst-ever economic downturn. The older Henry had failed with his single-handed rule and Henry II was committed to correct this business crime; through his leadership, he took Ford’s products to almost every corner of the world. The positive influence of both leaders has been felt the world over. They changed the system of leadership in the past when business was believed to be only done by virtual rich dictators; men heavily laden with power. They came from humble positions and steered their respective companies to greatness (Goldsmith, 2009, p.82).


The life of Iacocca and HF2 are living proofs that one must not stick himself in just the field which he studied; people are therefore warned from limiting their ways to success, but are instead encouraged to attempt as many options as possible. For instance, Iacocca moved from the engineering field into sales… quite differently, but he knew that his future was in sales and he surely made it big, and the same applies to HF2 who moved from Navy into business management. They managed to demonstrate their leadership skills simply because they acknowledged their weaknesses and confronted them with their strengths. None of them could have ever known how great a leader he was, had he not shifted. To prove the worth of a good leader, a person in authority has to ensure that he is surrounded by the only the best; not only in education, but also in skills and attitude. Any management team should be able to come up with feasible, executable, well-designed strategies to steer the organization to achieve big objectives. That is the step Henry Ford II employed. As Lee would put it, the only word differentiating a good manager and a bad one is “Decisiveness”. That is, the ability to decide on a way forward during crisis by prioritizing options through which a problem can be solved.


Goldsmith, M. (2009). How Not to Lose the Top Job. Harvard Business Review. 87(1). p.9, pp.72-80. Web.

Lorsch, J. W et al. (1999).Changing Leaders. Harvard Business Review. 77(3). p.10, pp.96 105.Web.

Schauseil, R. (2009). A New Slant on the C’s. Business Credit. 111(2). pp.1-4. Web.

Snyder, J. (2009). Men who shaped Chrysler. Automotive News. Wernle, Bradford. 83(6347), p.22-27. Web.

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