Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Ford V Ferrari

A Reel Leadership Article

There have been many great movies released in 2019. From the Marvel blockbuster event of Avengers: Endgame to Rambo: Last Blood to the surprisingly good Pokemon: Detective Pickachu, 2019 is a year of great movies.

Then there are the movies that are going to stand the test of time. I believe Endgame will be one of those. Alongside Endgame will be the new release of Ford V Ferrari. Ford V Ferrari tells the story of automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a British race car driver. These two believed they could rival the multi-winning Ferrari and bring Ford a victory at the 24-hour Le Mans race.

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford V Ferrari

You will feel like you were transported back in time with Ford V Ferrari. The costumes were authentic to the period. So are the depictions of the Ford automotive factory in Detroit, Michigan.

But, not only will you get a glimpse into the history of the Ford Motor Company, the Le Mans race, and American automotive history, you will get so much more when you watch Ford V Ferrari. You will get a Reel Leadership lesson.

Today, we’re going to examine the leadership lessons in Ford V Ferrari. I hope you’re ready. It’s going to be as thrilling of a ride as the movie!

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Ford V Ferrari

1. Ken Miles:

The only question that matters: Who are you?

There is a voice-over early on in Ford V Ferrari. I believe the voice to have been of Ken Miles.

He said something profound during this voice over. He knew the truth. The only question that matters is Who are you?

Leaders need to know who they are. They need to know what they stand for, what they won’t stand for, and how far they’ll go to get a win.

Knowing this will allow you to operate in your zone. You will know your boundaries, and there should be boundaries in your leadership.

Be aware of who you are. Make sure you’re not straying from this point of reference.

2. The customer isn’t always right:

Ken Miles owned a garage. He was working on cars for people in his area. He was always tweaking them just a bit more than some customers would like.

One customer was throwing a fit. The customer was upset his car wasn’t handling the way he would like. Ken knew something. It wasn’t the car…

Ken also let the customer know. He told the customer maybe he didn’t know how to drive his car. This set the customer off in a tizzy.

Yet, Ken was right. The customer didn’t know how to drive his own car. When the customer protested, Ken told him the customer wasn’t always right.

You will have many customers in your leadership journey. They will all have demands on you. Some will be right. Others will be wrong.

You will have to have the fortitude to tell your customers when they’re wrong. You will have to stand up for what you know is right, even if your customer says it is wrong.

The customer isn’t always right. Stand true to this.

3. Creative solutions work:

Ken was going to race in a local race when an SCCA Official named Bill (Evan Arnold) told him his car was disqualified. The trunk space was too small.

Ken went ballistic. He found a hammer and began to beat his trunk. In doing so, he gave the trunk more room and the car was race legal.

While Ken’s actions were due to anger, he found a creative solution to race. He expanded the space in the trunk and was able to get on the track.

You may believe you’re out of luck and can’t lead due to some factor in your past. You may have a criminal history, learning disability, or another issue that holds you back from leading.

Don’t let your past, your disability, or other issues prevent you from leading. There are creative solutions you can take to get you in the game.

If you have a criminal conviction, look at the possibility of starting your own company. Learning disability? Discover how your disability is actually a superpower.

Find creative solutions to the roadblocks stopping you from leading.

4. Leadership is rocky:

During the SCCA race, Ken was in second place. He was closing in on the lead car but he had to wait. Patience was a virtue in these races.

Then came the time. Ken could pass the lead car. Except one thing… He had to pass on the unpaved shoulder.

This was a rocky pass. The car rumbled and pulled. He could have been in trouble. The path was rocky but he was able to pass and take the win.

Leadership isn’t a straight line. There will be times of turbulence. You will feel the path to great leadership is rocky.

You wouldn’t be wrong with this line of thought. There will be plenty of rocky times in leadership. You have to be able to work through those times.

5. Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal from Netflix’s Punisher and AMC’s The Walking Dead):

Because we’ve been thinking wrong.

Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) asked a room full of Ford executives why he should listen to them after their failures. Iacocca had a brilliant response.

Iacocca knew Ford had issues. They were thinking the wrong way. Iacocca voiced this to Ford. Ford listened and allowed them to continue working towards a better car.

Leaders have to examine the way they and their team thinks about their business. People can get into the habit of thinking in one way when the business has changed. With the business change, their thinking needs to change as well.

Changing the way you think is harder than you realize. It takes a conscious effort to see when old, outdated thinking is taking place. It also takes strength to change the way you think.

Don’t hold onto ways that no longer work. Look to the future and create new ways of thinking.

6. Know what matters:

Shelby was talking to Iacocca about winning Le Mans. The Ford executives believed winning Le Mans was about speed. Shelby knew differently.

Winning Le Mans was more than speed. You have to have the right people, the right vehicle, the right conditions.

Shelby knew what mattered in winning Le Mans. Speed was a small portion of it. He knew the rest of what mattered.

Do you know what matters in your leadership? Is winning and growing the ultimate goal of leadership? Or is there something more to leading than success?

I know there’s more to leadership than success. Leadership goes beyond being the best in your industry.

Leadership is about:

  • Building people up
  • Creating a culture people want to work in
  • Being ethical
  • Creating new leaders
  • And so much more.

Make sure you know what matters as a leader.

7. Have big dreams:

When Shelby approached Miles about racing in Le Mans, Miles had a question. He wanted to know how long Shelby told Ford he would need to build a car that could win Le Mans.

Shelby had big dreams. He cast a huge vision. He had told Ford he would only need 90 days.

Ken laughed. Ken believed they would need 200-300 years to build a car to compete with Ferarri.

Still, Ken bought into Shelby’s dream. He agreed to drive for Ford.

Your dreams need to be big as a leader. The bigger the dream, the better.

Little dreams do little to inspire teams to perform at peak performance. Now, toss a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) at your team? This inspires them to join you in your dreams.

8. Technology isn’t the be-all, know-all:

Miles and Shelby were testing the Ford GT40 on the track. Miles kept saying the airflow was wrong.

The Ford executives at the track didn’t believe him. They saw the computer computations and they said the airflow was right.

Miles, the hothead he was, ripped out the computer system. He began to tape pieces of string onto the car.

He took the car for another spin. As he did, the string told a story the computers didn’t. The string showed how the airflow was off.

Technology, while great, cannot tell you everything. There will be things only good, old-fashioned work will expose.

Rely on technology for what it can do. Rely on tried and true methods when technology fails.

9. Have the right people in the right seat:

Sadly, the executives at Ford believed Miles wasn’t the right face for the Ford racing team. They bumped him in favor of Bruce McLaren (Benjamin Rigby). McLaren drove at the 1965 Le Mans as the Ford driver.

He didn’t know the Ford GT40 as Miles did. Because of this, McLaren lost Le Mans.

Had Ford kept Miles in the driver’s seat, there’s a good chance he could have won.

Do you have the right people in the right seats in your organization? You may think you do but you may be wrong.

The reason Ford took Miles out of the driver’s seat was that Miles was rough around the edges. His gruff demeanor was a problem for Ford.

You may have taken an excellent team member out of their right seat because they looked different (they may have tattoos or dress differently). Be careful of taking people out of their proper seat because of the way they look. You could be hampering your organization.

10. Leaders include their family:

Ken Miles had a son named Peter (Noah Jupe). Peter had watched Miles train and test the GT40.

Miles wanted to include his son in this. He walked up to Peter and took him for a ride in the car.

Peter loved this. He had a great time going around the track.

Great leaders know their families are as much a part of their success as they are. They also know they need to include their families when they can.

Look for ways to include your family in your leadership. This doesn’t mean they get to lead the organization. But they can be a part of it.

You can bring your son or daughter to work one day. You can choose to discuss your work with them in a way they can understand. Or you take them to business functions that are appropriate.

11. Know how to make your point:

Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) was a thorn in Shelby and Miles’ sides. He was one of those executives.

Shelby heard Beebe and Ford were coming to the track to let them know Miles was not going to drive in the 1966 Le Mans. They were giving his seat to someone else, again (they never learn!).

Shelby had a plan. He had to make a point.

He brought Beebe into his office for a “discussion.” The discussion ended with Shelby locking Beebe in the office, heading out to the track, and asking Ford if he would like to sit in the passenger’s seat of the car.

The speed, the power, the sensations were too much for Ford. He discovered the car had so much power and not everyone could handle it. Ford agreed Miles would be the driver.

Shelby made his point by showing Ford the vehicle. You need to know how to make your point.

You can do this by:

  • Showing your team the mission and vision
  • Giving them a chance to experience what you do
  • Explaining why you made the decision

When you know how to make your point, people will listen.

12. Ken Miles:

If this were a beauty pageant, we just lost.

Ken saw all of the beautiful cars at the 1966 Le Mans course. They were beautiful works of art. While the Ford GT40 was a great looking car, it paled in comparison to the competition.

Thankfully, Miles and Shelby knew Le Mans wasn’t a beauty pageant. They knew the right things to focus on.

Leadership isn’t a beauty pageant either. Leadership is about doing the right things at the right time for the right reason. Make sure you’re not looking at the wrong metrics.

13. Know the rules:

In testing the Ford GT40, the team knew the brake system would fail. They’d seen it multiple times in testing. They had a solution for this.

During the Le Mans race, they would bring out a whole new brake assembly. This would give the brake system a complete overhaul and get them back in the game sooner.

A race official saw this and didn’t like what happened. He challenged them and told them it was against the rules. Miles and Shelby had read the rule book and knew this wasn’t a rule.

Knowing the rules helped the Ford team swap out the brake system and get back in the race faster than their competition. Had they not known the rules, they may have backed down to the race official.

You have to know the rules of leadership. Knowing them will keep you in line and help you make the best choices.

14. Doing the right thing can make you lose:

Beebe convinced Ford it would be great to have all three Ford vehicles cross the finish line at the same time. He tried to convince Shelby and Miles to do this. Shelby was upset. Miles was beside himself and wouldn’t do it.

As the race came to a close, Miles had a change of heart. He began to slow his vehicle and allow the other two Ford drivers to cross the finish line with him.

Miles believed this would place all three drivers in first place. It didn’t.

McLaren won the race on the technicality of being further behind at the start. Miles had been screwed out of the win.

Leaders will do things that are right because, well, they’re the right thing to do. Doing the right thing won’t always be the best thing for themselves, though.

You have to know doing the right thing may put you at a disadvantage. You may not see success in the way you thought you would.

Yet you can’t let losing or success be the deciding factor in doing the right thing. Do the right thing because it is the right thing.

Question: If you’ve watched Ford V Ferrari, what leadership lessons did you take away from the movie? If you haven’t seen the movie, what Reel Leadership lessons from Ford V Ferrari that I shared resonated with you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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