Obsessed with his Model T design, Henry Ford permitted no modifications or improvements for twenty years. When his designers surprised him one day with a prototype of an updated model, Ford literally ripped off its doors and proceeded to demolish the car with his bare hands. By the time Ford did agree to a new car for the public, the company was grossly behind its competitors in technical innovations and had shrunk to a market share of only 28 percent.
Ford’s stronghold on his company took bizarre forms. He created a sociological department to track the lives of his employees and direct their private lives. Once he reportedly walked into the accounting office and tossed the company’s books into the street. He told employees to put all funds received into a large barrel, and when a shipment of material came in, they should reach into the barrel and remove enough money to pay for the materials.
Although he openly touted his son Edsel as the bright next president of Ford Motor Company, he secretly undermined him by backing other leaders. As promising leaders arose, Ford repeatedly tore them down. Unfortunately, the promising Edsel died young, leaving his son, Henry Ford II, the apparent heir.
Henry II took over a company that had not made a profit in 15 years and was losing $1 million a day. Plus, his grandfather’s tendency for underhanded leadership had trickled down to him. Threatened by the power and influence of those beneath him, Henry II moved them to positions with less clout. He once advised Lee Iacocca, another Ford president, “Keep your people anxious and off-balance.”
What might have become of Ford Motor Company early on if leaders had tossed aside their insecurities, released their white-knuckle grip on the reins and torn down the false gods of themselves? Wasted years could have been productive years, graced with strong leadership development and a life-affirming sense of teamwork.
What false gods do leaders follow these days? The stock market? Self-image? Power? Sex? Control? Grudges? Leisure? Money? Do you ever observe those in spiritual leadership positions misusing authority for personal agendas that sound good but prove lifeless?
What about you? Are there any false gods lurking within you? Ask God to reveal any gods that block your experience of the fullness and freedom of the true God’s leadership in your life. Refuse to allow Jeroboam’s sin to become your own ¦
Ginny Bridges Ireland is director of admissions and student services for the Wake Forest University Divinity School.