Jack Welch Dives Into What Leadership Could and Should Be


While TED talks seem to be all the rage, just 4 minutes and 44 seconds of Jack Welch speaking on leadership will have you seeing the world and its galaxy in a whole new way. In under 5 minutes Welch hones in on what he believes true leadership is and how to do it, not just from lip service but walking the walk in the routine and the long run.

To give some perspective, Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for two decades and got some things done while he was there. From $1.5 billion to $15 billion in profit and $25 billion to $130 billion in revenues, the guy was clearly doing something right. Yet, oddly enough, over the years, as he has been interviewed and given his wisdom on leadership, talk of money, profit and hounding after it seem to be all much absent. It’s all about the people for Jack, how you approach them, feel about them, treat them and do life and work alongside them. Powerfully he says, “The trick is building truth and trust.”

Thousands of books have been written, countless films, self help seminars and conferences made in the effort to find out what makes a successful leader that the space seems muddy and cluttered. We all crave to know how to do this leadership thing well and if we’re honest many of us are searching for that silver bullet. Welch, however, dives in and speaks straight into the matter, ““If [your employees] trust you, they tell you the truth, and when you get the truth, you act quickly,” from his eight decades of management. “And so truth and trust play an enormous role. People have to trust you. You have to build in trust for people.”

In order for employees to thrive, leaders must have a relationship of trust and be committed to that relationship over the long run.

It’s important here to take a pause. We may be tempted take that advice and start running with it, not allowing it to digest and seep into our brain and hearts, for they need to be genuinely in line with this philosophy. Our brain and hearts have to accept and thirst for creating places, teams and projects that have a rockbed of truth and trust. As a leader you have to be encouraging that ethos every single day, through every single action. This means setting a tone of frank honesty that is devoid of spiteful attack, it means opening yourself to and encouraging your employees to be transparently critical of your work practices, and to manage that well.

Directness

Welch advocates for directness. Those beneath you in the pecking line will naturally find it difficult to muster up the courage to point out an error on your behalf or suggest a different way (perhaps a much better way) of approaching an issue. To promote candor in your workplace is create an environment where trust is easily developed. Welch says that leaders have a moral obligation for people’s lives and livelihoods, you need to be wholistically involved in the caveats of your business. You must know and be known openly in return. This way honesty and candor can pave the way for frank conversations that happen out of trust and respect.

Be aware of bottom lines and balance sheets, of course but what is more important, he says, is to know exactly how your employees are doing and to let them know. Be clear, be direct and be transparent. Every three months he says, managers should tell their employees what they are doing well and what they need to improve on. Here’s the thing though, employees should look forward to this time. Leadership, Welch says, should create an environment where your truthful and direct input is looked forward to, cherished and acted upon.

Vision Setter

Jack Welch advocates for leadership to be the meaning makers. You have to create, nourish and explain the meaning of your trajectory. Where are you going? Why are you going there? And most importantly to Welch, what will the people, who come along for this change ride, get out of coming along the journey? Welch believes that so many CEOs and manager get the first two, where and why the company should be going where it is but they forget to inspire people to come on that journey. People need to be emotionally connected to the end goal, money and reward, while incentives, are not enough to keep people loyal and trained on the goal, there must be a depth to their connection to you, the team and the goal.

Fun Times Must Be Had

Welch simply says that you team needs to feel that their project, their space is happening in “the cool kid’s basement, if you have a unit, you want the six people in your unit to think they have the world by the a– and the same thing if you have a 400,000-person GE.” It seems that the dynamic of humans and teams never change, from the playground to the highrise, when people have fun, they produce and achieve better. Welch says that leaders need to constantly checking that they are in line with their employees, that they have their finger on the pulse and an ear to the ‘beat’ of the party.

“Do I understand my purpose in being here? It’s not about me, it’s about them. The workers. Am I making them so excited they hate being home on the weekend — they want to be in here, working? Am I making it so much damn fun here? Am I celebrating every little victory with a keg of beer or something else,” Welch leaves no room for being a dour boss, you have to be in there, sleeves rolled up, ready to whip up a bout of the macarena if the team needs a lift in mood.

After mulling on Welch’s wisdom and suggestions, it seems that at the heart of the leadership question has been there all along, the people that you are leading. Genuinely, deeply and passionately seek to know them and advocate and sweat for their professional and personal best. From that attitude, the small victories, when put together, can make colossal ones.

Picking up on Carol’s balance sheet mistakes in the morning, telling her about it, suggesting she do them in the afternoon and buying her a funny coffee cup, could one day translate into winning that contract you have been trying decades to acquire.