3 Top Business Tips from the GM CEO, Mary Barra


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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Mary Barra has a lot of experience from her six years as CEO of General Motors. Here are some of her best tips for running a business.

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3 Top Business Tips from the GM CEO, Mary Barra

Mary Barra, chair and CEO of General Motors (GM), is undoubtedly one of the most successful women in the world. She’s ranked the second-most powerful woman, ahead of even such titans as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and her net worth is close to $50 million. However, this wasn’t always the case.

When Barra took on the role of CEO, GM was in the midst of one of the biggest product recalls in US history thanks to a defect in its cars that cost lives. Where many CEOs might have focused on minimizing PR damage, Barra owned up to the company’s mistakes and made a concerted effort to change its culture; an effort that seems to have worked wonders.

It goes without saying there’s a lot that can be learned from Barra, at every stage of a business. Here are three of her most pertinent and useful business tips that’ll help companies and entrepreneurs find success.

1. What you do every day sets your culture

Barra’s leadership through GM’s recall crisis has been a shining example of how companies should respond to their mistakes. Barra didn’t try to shirk responsibility, but instead made it her job to completely change the company’s culture to avoid a similar incident from happening again. This meant increasing transparency and getting rid of the toxic attitude that prevented whistleblowers from coming forward.

To achieve this, she started at the top and led by example, saying in an interview:

“I fully, strongly believe behaviors set your culture and you can’t fake, you know, what you do every day sets your culture. You can’t pretend to have a culture that’s different than what you’re really doing.”

To change an organization’s values, leaders must live those values every single day, even when doing so is difficult.

2. Without big goals, there are no big outcomes

Under Barra’s leadership, GM is moving towards a future of electric and self-driving cars. The company’s goals are to achieve a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion, which might seem like it’s shooting too high. However, Barra believes this is necessary.

She shared a meeting with astronaut Dr Mae Jemison on LinkedIn and discussed GM’s targets, and summed up her philosophy as:

“Without big goals, there are no big outcomes.”

Setting small, bite-sized targets is fine, but it’s only through aiming for the best outcome that an organization can achieve it.

3. Hold yourself accountable

The Black Lives Matter movement has spurred a lot of organizations to talk more about diversity in the workplace. However, Barra has made it clear that at GM, the conversation won’t be about why this is the case, but about what it can do to change things.

She also talked about GM’s policy of holding itself accountable for tackling this issue, and it’s a philosophy she’s carried with her throughout her tenure as CEO. Leaders can’t look at problems and simply hope they change; they must make themselves responsible for that change, and ensure failure to do so has consequences.

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