Four Leadership Lessons from Ford v. Ferrari

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Four Leadership Lessons from Ford v. Ferrari

This post is the first of many categorized as “Leadership and Popcorn Lessons” that I’ll share business and leadership takeaways from movies. I love going to movies and watching great stories unfold on the big screen, and felt it would help you, my readers, in your career & life if you had additional insights into the film and key lessons to look out for if you were to see the film.

I’ve been excited to see Ford v. Ferrari since I watched its trailer release on YouTube. I’m a fan of both Matt Damon & Christian Bale, and was excited to see how they would bring this story to life. The film highlights the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s “oldest, active sports car endurance race.”

Ford Motor Company’s sales were struggling during the 1960’s. Desperate for a change, Henry Ford II hired a team of engineers, led by automotive legend Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his British driver (Bale) to design a Ford racing car capable of beating Ferrari in the world’ biggest race. It was a move the company was banking on changing their brand image from an “old man’s car” to a new generation’s fast, sexy car.

Ford v. Ferrari is a fast-paced racing movie, full of ego, arrogance, and the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s also filled with key lessons for succeeding in business and life.

1. What’s Worked In the Past Doesn’t Guarantee It Will in the Future

Ford had built a large company on the backs of their early models, but during the 1960s, saw their market share slip due to a younger generation aligning Ford with their parents – and like all teenagers & young adults, they wanted to distance themselves from anything that made them look like their parents. James Bond, the image of sexy & strong, drove an Ashton Martin. Other brands stepped ahead of Ford until they turned to Carroll Shelby and unveiled the Ford Mustang in 1964.

As detailed in the movie, Ford had to change their brand image & product line from what “was” in order to rise back ontop for what it “could be.”

It’s easy for us to rely on the way “things have always been” in business. We grow comfortable and complacent sticking with what’s always worked instead of continually evaluating our systems, products, and customer experience – until one day we look up and realize we’ve lost ground in the market. “What got you here won’t get you there” is a phrase I’ve kept in the forefront of my mind during my own entrepreneurial journey so that I was constantly focusing on how we can innovate and continue growing instead of being caught complacent.

2. Sometimes You Have to Look Outside of Your Industry for Game-Winning Ideas

Ford’s team looked beyond the American consumer market for ideas on how to rebrand themselves and create a new product (insert Ferrari & the 24 Hours of Le Mans). Most companies succeed with innovation with they look outside of their own industry and direct competitors for fresh ideas in other industries altogether.

We get stuck in a habit only reviewing our space when many great ideas can be found by looking at the processes & systems of other industries. Just look at how companies like Uber & AirBnB have changed the transportation & travel industries. If you’re ever feeling stuck, challenge yourself to look at how successful companies in entirely different spaces are working for a fresh perspective.

3. Be Willing to Experiment and Test with the Continuous Focus of “How Can We Get Better Today?”

Shelby’s team was relentless testing Miles’ race cars to create the most efficient & powerful machine so he had the best opportunity to win at Le Mans. Just the same, successful organizations encourage a culture of asking “how can we get better today?” It’s a simple question, that if integrated into all levels of a company, can create powerful results.

This simple question encourages every position within a company to evaluate their own workday, communication lines, customer-engagement, and more for opportunities to streamline and improve the workflow & experience. The tests to improve the workflow only benefit the company’s productivity and – just as important – the customer experience.

Be less concerned about something “not working” and more concerned with testing different ideas for improvement. You won’t bat 1.000% on new ideas – but you will bat 0% if you never attempt to test them.

4. Someone Will Always Criticize You – Even Try to Bring You Down – Ignore Them To Focus on What You Control.

Throughout the entire movie, Damon & Bale’s characters faced challenges – both from external teams & influences as well as internal at Ford. It reminded me of one key truth we forget when pursuing something great – not everyone is going to like it or you. It doesn’t matter if they do, it only matters what you continue to do.

You can’t control how someone else treats you (or tries to sabotage you) but you 100% control how you respond in your attitude, effort, & actions. You can waste precious time worrying about what someone else will say or do – or you can invest that time in getting better with your product and service. Even if you do a flawless job, someone will have something negative to say – so it’s a more effective use of your time to ignore outside critics and instead focus on what you control.

Ford v. Ferrari is a great film on the importance of thinking creatively outside of the box, believing in your ability to win, and hiring people you believe in — and then getting out of their way to let them do their job effectively.

1 Comment
  • Jessica C
    Posted at 16:56h, 19 November Reply

    Great article Jake! I agree that what worked then doesn’t guarantee it will work now. Being in retail the climate is always changing. I can plan my heart out but trends change. Need to stay flexible to remain competitive.

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