Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
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My View

Leadership at all levels

Phil Condit
Chairman and CEO

Phil ConditI may hold the top leadership position in the company, but I'm sure not the only leader. The July issue of Boeing Frontiers is full of stories about leaders at all levels. I hope one or more of these stories will prompt you to think about leadership and how you fit into the "working together" equation.

Are you a good leader? Are you a good team member? Are you a good follower? Many people are all of these things at one time or another—and sometimes simultaneously.

To me, leadership is having the vision to see beyond where you are today. Leadership is about people and how you can best combine their efforts to produce a valuable result.

It starts with the ability to communicate. That involves both aggressive listening and "painting a picture" that others can visualize. There are a lot of smart people at Boeing, so a good leader must listen—aggressively listen—then synthesize those views into a clear picture. Leaders are able to ask for and welcome input from others, understand what opportunities exist in the future, then shape a direction that will take the group where it needs to go. But leadership doesn't stop there. Through their words and through their actions, leaders then communicate that "picture" in a way that helps the larger team first understand where it needs to go and why it needs to go there, and then embrace that picture.

A good leader has to be decisive yet flexible. One of the hardest attributes of leadership is determining when you need to listen and gather data and when you need to take the data and reach a decision that honors the inputs, is ethical and leads in the desired direction.

Good leadership also involves knowing when you should lead and when you should follow. Once a decision has been reached and articulated, it's important for everyone to get working on what needs to be done.

Leadership can occur at all levels in an organization. It is not restricted to senior executives or managers. You can have a self-managed team working on something like "How are we going to solve this problem?" Coming up with a good answer takes leadership.

Boeing is encouraging its people to show leadership at all levels. Leadership occurs where the "rubber meets the road," where the task gets done. And we see the benefits time and time again in increased quality, productivity, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. In the annual Boeing employee survey, strong local leadership makes the biggest single difference in employee-satisfaction scores.

That's the reason Boeing is placing a very high strategic priority on developing leadership capability. That's why we have the Boeing Leadership Center. The names of its courses reflect its broad outlook, such as First Level Leadership, Leading from the Middle, and the Boeing Executive Program.

Boeing's leadership-development strategy is also reflected in the company's extensive succession-planning process. This process helps us give people the right experiences and the right educational opportunities to develop their leadership capability. Succession planning also helps the company select the right people for executive roles. Leadership development also includes giving people the opportunity of the Boeing Learning Together tuition reimbursement program. It lets people exercise their own initiative to go learn and develop their capabilities and skills, including leadership.

A full-time leadership job may not be for everybody at Boeing. Leading a technical group is a very different job than being a good engineer. But both sets of skills are vital to the company's future. To succeed in today's highly competitive markets, Boeing has to have great engineers, software writers, mechanics and other skilled individuals as well as great leaders.

There is no simple formula for building good leadership. I believe the single most important thing I can do in this company is to see that it develops future leaders. When it comes to developing leaders, Boeing will always be striving to be better. We're better at it now than we were two years ago. We're going to be better still two years from now. And I don't expect ever to reach the end of that road.


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