I had a fascinating conversation with a guy who worked closely with Jack Welch at General Electric this past week. During the conversation I asked him, “what are some of the leadership lessons you took away from working with this legendary CEO?” Some of what he said was predictable – like make sure the vision is clear and how communication is absolutely critical; but some of what he said was surprising. Here is how I would summarize some of the more suprising insights into four leadership lessons from Jack Welch:
Leadership Lesson #1: DETAILS MATTER. When Jack Welch scheduled a meeting you had better know the details of your division or business. Why? Because Jack would show up knowing them and want even more out of you! It was not uncommon for Welch to schedule a meeting around a particular topic, expect you to be prepared with a full report and then spend only a few minutes on the topic and report. He would take the report and then start machine gunning you for more details. Jack Welch believed details matter!
Leadership Lesson #2: SKIP LEVELS TO GET NECESSARY INFORMATION. Jack Welch was a very hands-on leader and believed that the whole company was his to lead. Because of that he did not hesitate to skip levels in the GE organization to find out the truth about what was happening and get the information he needed to make necessary changes. There was protocol at GE, but the bottom line was king and if you needed to skip levels to find out important info – do it!
Leadership Lesson #3: FLATTEN THE ORGANIZATION. Welch was notorious for how he restructured GE for success. According to my friend it was originally more out of desperation than a well thought out strategy – but it did work! Eliminating layers of middle management and flattening the organization was a way to keep the business efficient and information accessible to him.
Leadership Lesson #4: FOCUS ON THE “PROBLEMS” AND THE “STARS”. This leadership lesson was the most interesting to me. One of the ways that Welch made such a flat organization work was by telling his managers to focus on the “problems” and the “stars”. His assumption was that if GE hired the right people they would show up motivated and need less direction from management. Once they hired the right people he could then give his management huge numbers of direct reports (leading to a flatter organization) and ask them to only focus on the “problems” and the “stars”. The “problems” needed attention so they could be removed from the company. The “stars” required attention so that they could be quickly moved up the ladder. All others required little management until they moved into the categories of “problems” or “stars”.
My friend admitted that Welch definitely had traits that were not worth following, but that he learned much from his leadership.
Are these leadership lessons that work everywhere? Or are these leadership lessons that worked for Jack Welch in the GE context? Which of these leadership lessons would and would not work in a church?