Leadership at 3M: Management Case Study

Leadership at 3M: Management Case Study

Instructions: Read the following case and answer the questions below

The 3M Company, formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation operating in the fields of industry, worker safety, health care, and consumer goods.[3] The company produces over 60,000 products under several world-renowned brands,[4] including adhesives, abrasives, laminates, passive fire protection, personal protective equipment, window films, paint protection films, dental and orthodontic products, electrical & electronic connecting and insulating materials, medical products, car-care products,[5] electronic circuits, healthcare software and optical films.[6] It is based in Maplewood, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul

How important are excellent leaders to organizations? If you were to ask the recently retired 3M CEO George Buckley, he’d say extremely important. But he’d also say that excellent leaders don’t just pop up out of nowhere. A company has to cultivate leaders who have the skills and abilities to help it survive and thrive. And like a successful baseball team with strong performance statistics that has a player development plan in place, 3M has its own farm system. Except its farm system is designed to develop company leaders.

 A farm system is a team or club whose role is to provide experience and training for young players, with an agreement that any successful players can move on to a higher level at a given point, usually in an association with a major-level parent team.

3M’s leadership development program is so effective that it has been one of the “Top 20 Companies for Leadership” in three of the past four years and ranks as one of the top 25 companies for grooming leadership talent according to Hay Consulting Group and Fortune magazine. What is 3M’s leadership program all about? About 10 years ago, the company’s former CEO (Jim McNerney, who is now Boeing’s CEO) and his top team spent 18 months developing a new leadership model for the company. After numerous brainstorming sessions and much heated debate, the group finally agreed on six “leadership attributes” they believed were essential for the company to become skilled at executing strategy and being accountable. Those six attributes included the ability to

  1. “chart the course;
  2. energize and inspire others;
  3. demonstrate ethics, integrity, and compliance;
  4. deliver results;
  5. raise the bar;
  6. and innovate resourcefully.”

And under Buckley’s guidance and continued under the leadership of newly appointed CEO Inge Thulin, the company is continuing and reinforcing its pursuit of leadership excellence with these six attributes.

When asked about his views on leadership, Buckley said he believes leaders differ from managers. He believes the key to developing leaders is to focus on those things that can be developed—like strategic thinking. Buckley also believes leaders should not be promoted up and through the organization too quickly. They need time to experience failures and what it takes to rebuild.

Finally, when asked about his own leadership style, Buckley said he believed the best way for him to succeed as a leader was to surround himself with people who were better than him. But doing that takes a great deal of emotional self-confidence, an attribute that is vital to being a great leader. When you have people working for you who are excellent at what they do, you respect them. When you respect them, you build trust. That type of leadership approach worked well for Buckley, as illustrated by 3M’s number 18 ranking on Fortune’s most admired global companies list for 2012.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think about Buckley’s statement that leaders and managers differ? Do you agree? Why or why not? (10 points)
  2. What leadership models/theories/issues do you see in this case? List and describe. (10 points)
  3. Take each of the six leadership attributes the company feels is important. Explain what you think each one involves. Then discuss how those attributes might be developed and measured. (24 points)


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