Friday, December 30, 2011

My First Lesson from Jack Welch - Do You have the Courage to Lead?

  1. Results are the #1 responsibility of business leaders
  2. To accomplish those results you must have a vision and the courage to lead
  3. Change is a business reality and necessity 
My first experience with Jack was a classic and memorable moment. Early in my GE career I had the coincidental good fortune to be at its Executive Development Insitute in Crotonville, NY during a Sr. Managers event. During a Q&A session a twenty year veteran at GE asked Jack a question. It was actually more of a statement but Jack's response was simple and powerful - a revealing response that showed his clarity of vision and purpose.

This manger suggested to Jack that GE was changing. He went on to clarify that he felt GE used to be a company that if you worked hard and were dependable you would have a job for life. The manger continued with specific examples of the changes including plant closings, reorganizations, sale of traditional GE businesses, etc.

Jack's response was swift, direct and incredibly illuminating for a twenty seven year old new hire. What I remember is the following..."I need you and everyone in this room and this company to understand that GE needs to change and change quickly! I expect change to be a constant at GE as it is still far from what it needs to be to compete in a global market (this was 1985). GE needs leaders that embrace change and thrive on it because the Koreans, Japanese and Chinese all want our business." After these remarks he followed up with this punch line. “Starting today every manager at GE signs a 24 hour contract. If you don't feel you are getting paid fairly don't come back tomorrow, if we determine we did not get our moneys’ worth from you today we will tell you not to come back tomorrow.”

That was the beginning of what turned out to be ten terrific years at GE. My initial reaction was shock but I quickly got past the words to understand and embrace his message and intent. It was a different time and place in the late 1980's and much has changed in the world but the sentiment and thinking is relevant today...again; Results, Vision, Courage & Change...the fundamentals don't change!

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