James Farley is no star, but The New York Times would have us think otherwise. Farley is Ford Motor Company’s new group vice president of marketing and communications. He took the job after spending seventeen years at Toyota, most recently as group vice president and general manager of Lexus.
The Times ran as its business section lead last Sunday a story about Farley headlined “A Star at Toyota, A Believer at Ford.” There is little in the story that would suggest Farley is a star, but the Times nevertheless packaged the story in a way that perpetuates the Myth of the Single Cowboy. This is the notion that one self-sufficient, rugged individual can achieve smashing success without help from anybody. We turn athletes, chefs, surgeons, politicians, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders into stars. The media drives this myth into our living rooms, our organizations and into our consciousness.
In the same edition as the Farley story, the Times travel section's first page promoted a story on French chefs on page 7 as “The New Culinary Stars of Bordeaux.” What about the line cooks, the prep people, the servers and the expeditors? It takes more than a single, star chef to prepare a meal in an upscale restaurant. But the Times and many other media outlets would prefer that we believe one person makes it all happen.
Toyota emphasizes collaboration over star culture. Farley clearly chalked up significant achievements at Toyota, because he collaborated across levels, functions and business units. Rather than practicing shoot-from-the-hip management, Toyota leaders practice nemawashi, which means literally “to prepare a tree’s roots for the soil.” Nemawashi is essentially about getting broad input into decisions and making decisions slowly by consensus. As a star, Farley could never have achieved much at Toyota. As a collaborator, Farley and his colleagues created considerable value.
Over the weekend, I saw the awesome IMAX version of the new Rolling Stones movie, Shine a Light, directed by Martin Scorsese. In the film, Keith Richards discusses his guitar prowess as compared with that of Ron Wood, who shares with Richards the title co-lead guitarist of the Stones. “We’re both pretty lousy, but together we’re better than ten others,” Richards says. This sums up the value of collaboration over star culture.