Q&A with James-Mcnerney-Jr-Retired Chairman President CEO the Boeing Company

1. What is your passion?

I’m passionate about leadership development because I personally regarded identifying, cultivating and mentoring leaders as the most important aspect of my job—one to which I devoted an enormous amount of time and attention. I reached that conclusion as I progressed through global business roles and ranks, and observed that the best companies seemed to go on—year after year—producing the best leaders, irrespective of the worlds in which they were competing. They know the kind of leadership they want. They define it, they model it, they teach it, they expect it, they measure it and they reward it

2. What is an important lesson you learned in your career?

Through my roles at GE, 3M and Boeing, I matured into a leader who recognizes the role of culture and the motivations of people and their alignment to a greater degree than I did when I was younger. Early in my career, I was a typical young manager who felt I could think my way through anything and my teams would follow along because the answer to a question or challenge was obvious to me. I’ve always been someone who tries hard for alignment, but the set of tools I had to get that alignment expanded through the years.

Ultimately, leadership is less about power, authority and having a title that impresses people and makes them feel like they have to do what you tell them to do. It’s more about building relationships of openness, candor, trust and respect; clarifying objectives, setting a course and driving consensus from within a group. If you can do that, you can lead from any position or any place in the organization.

3. What would you pinpoint as your greatest accomplishment at Boeing?

When I joined Boeing, it’s no secret the company was facing challenges because of ethical missteps, poor business decisions and unsatisfied customers. In part, this was because the company that hadn’t been fully stitched together after a series of mergers and acquisitions in the mid-to-late 1990s. A difficult challenge at any large, diverse organization is managing the various groups and teams. We knew we couldn’t simply choose one of the legacy cultures and force everyone to follow it. Instead, we defined, built and nurtured the culture we wanted from the ground up—one that emphasizes both individual accountability for getting one’s job done and a shared responsibility for the company’s overall success. The credit goes to Boeing employees and all that they have accomplished by embracing this culture every day.

4. What advice do you have for other leaders in the community?

Guard against thinking you know everything. I’ve always worked hard to be inclusive even when I absolutely was convinced I was right because it gave my team the chance to go through the process of learning and achieving their own objectives. It’s also important to continuously improve yourself, not only in the “hard” skills of business but also to the “soft” skills of communication and leadership that are so important to business success. 

5. Why is civic engagement a priority for you?

I believe in our responsibilities as citizens—and as business leaders—to our communities, our country and our world. Companies must play a significant role as citizens beyond their role as corporations. They must lead responsibly to help our communities, our nations and the world address challenges that are bigger than any one company’s interests. That includes bringing together problem-solvers, focusing them on actions that improve communities, and helping communities develop the resources and qualities that attract people to live, work and play there. 

6. You believe in constantly challenging yourself—how will you continue doing that now that you have retired from Boeing?

I like to stay active, so while I’m not heading into the office each week, I’m fortunate to be involved in a number of business activities that keep me engaged. I also contribute to not-for-profit organizations and other businesses through board work. Of course, I have more time now to spend with my family, which is important to me, and to stay physically fit.