January 17, 2014 – Grounded Leader of the Week – GM’s Mary Barra

Posted by on Jan 16, 2014


Key Lesson:  Be authentic in how you interact with others and you will win both hearts and minds. 

Be your authentic self in all you say and do. That makes a socially healthy leader — and this week’s Grounded Leader does just that.

Mary Barra’s commitment and belief in teaming has landed her the CEO job at General Motors. As she takes the leadership reins at the notoriously sluggish organization, she’ll need to address the biggest concern of analysts and investors alike:  Making GM a more collaborative and customer-centric enterprise.

GM is banking on Barra’s “teaming gene” to make that happen.  Within GM, she is known for her ability with people, as well as bringing new car models to market faster and at lower cost. A “lifer” with GM who started as an 18-year old intern and trained as an engineer, Barra understands the beast she is charged with reinventing. Her authentic self has garnered the loyalty needed to get GMers to collaborate and put their trust in her teaming strategy.

Though Barra describes her own management style as collaborative, she is not necessarily a consensus builder: “We should have vigorous debates. At the end of the day, when the decision has to be made, if we don’t have complete unanimity, I have no qualms about making it.” That sense of strength and commitment — while simultaneously acknowledging the views and concerns of others — has served Barra and her company well. “If we win the hearts and minds of employees, we’re going to have better business success,” says Barra.

And that approach applies to the often thorny relations with unions. As head of internal communications following a 1999 strike, Barra was able to heal GM’s relations with the United Auto Workers. Even then-president of UAW Local 22, George McGregor, said Barra was “a people person, great to work with.”

This strategy has helped transform GM — and will continue to transform GM — far into the future, making Barra our Grounded Leader of the Week.


1 Comment

  1. Jonathan Peck
    December 17, 2015

    Nice description of the leadership ability to work between the tension of full commitment to teams and the willingness to make decisions when a team does not reach a consensus. Too often consensus can be the lowest common denominator or an ability to debate different positions effectively. That’s when a clear decision helps generate the necessary learning that could mean a subsequent course correction. Mary Berra offers real hope that GM can continue to be a vital company in the 21st century, and that people who team well can go from young intern to CEO.

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