When Jack Welch took over GE in 1981 and became the youngest CEO in GE’s history, the legendary leader made a resolution to transform GE into the world’s most competitive enterprise. Welch is a strategic thinker, business teacher, corporate icon and management theorist. If leadership is an art, then surely Welch has proved himself a master painter. With his unique leadership style and character, Welch made history during his 2-decade journey at GE. While most leaders talk a good game on leadership, he lived it. In this article, we feature Welch’s 12 lessons and how they contributed to the largest corporate makeover in history.
LEAD, Not MANAGE
Welch doesn’t like the term ‘manage’. To him, it conjures up negative images, such as ‘keeping people in the dark’ and ‘controlling and stifling people’. Welch’s goal is to lead, create a vision and make people passionate about their work. Leadership, according to Welch, can be found in anyone as long as they contribute, come up with good ideas and can energize, excite and inspire rather than enervate, depress and control.
Below are tips to become a great leader like Welch:
· Articulate a vision and lead others to execute it
· Don’t manage very little details
· Involve everyone and welcome great ideas
GET LESS FORMAL
When people voice their ideas, or call him ‘Jack’ instead of ‘Mr. Welch’ or when his Work-Out process is utilized, the corporation gets less formal. Jack doesn’t wear ties to work, he often holds informal meetings and encourages everyone to lighten up. Informality inspires people to have more ideas and it is one of the keys to GE’s success.
How can we get less formal?
· Brainstorm with colleagues and bosses
· Hold more informal meetings
· Consider occasional informal get-togethers
Don’t TOLERATE Bureaucracy, BLOW it Up!
Bureaucracy, the cancerous element of an organization, can create waste and slow the decision making process, leading to unnecessary approvals and procedures that make a company less competitive. Welch stressed that each employee should work on getting rid of bureaucracy every day. Bureaucracy can be the most stubborn disease, but we can simplify and remove complexity and formality to make a company more responsive and agile.
To ‘kick’ bureaucracy and simplify things:
· Drop unnecessary work
· Work with colleagues to streamline decision making
· Make your workplace more informal
Face REALITY. Stop Assuming
When Welch joined GE, the company was assumed to be in good shape, but Welch saw a sinking ship and many troubles-the company was losing its market value and there was too much bureaucracy. Instead of ‘kidding himself’ and assuming that things would improve, Welch made a resolution and created a “face reality” decree. He laid out strategies and initiatives that made things better.
Here are suggestions to help us see things as they are and not to ‘assume’:
· Look at things with a fresh eye
· Don’t fall into the ‘false scenarios’ trap
· Leave yourself with several options
Welch didn’t think business had to be complicated, thus, his goal at GE was to de-complicate work. He developed and initiated a signature program that made GE a simpler organization. To Welch, business can be exciting and simple, without jargon and complexity.
Isn’t simplifying things great? It allows our organizations to move along faster. Let’s try Welch’s advice:
· Simplify the workplace
· Make meetings simpler
· Eliminate complicated memos and letters
CHANGE- An Opportunity, Not a Threat
When Welch joined GE, many didn’t understand why he needed to make changes. They saw things as ‘a bed of roses’, while Welch saw the reality and faced it. He initiated the necessary changes to make GE a far more flexible and competitive organization. He made ‘change’ a part of GE’s shared value. Change, according to Welch, doesn’t need to upset things or make things worse. It can mean opportunities, good ideas, new business or new products.
So, what are we going to do to cope with change?
· Know that change is here to stay
· Expect the least expected, but move quickly to stay a step ahead
· Prepare those around you for the inevitable change that will affect their lives
Lead by Energizing Others, not Managing by Authority
Leadership does not mean control or command. Welch called his leadership ideal ‘boundaryless’, which means an open organization, free of bureaucracy and anything that prevents the free flow of ideas, people and decisions. He did not support the ‘i-am-the-boss-and-you-will-do-what-i-say’ style. He preferred inspiring others to want to perform.
To make others passionate about doing their jobs:
· Never lead by intimidation
· Let others know exactly how their efforts are helping the organization
· Send handwritten thank-you notes to colleagues and customers
Defy, not Respect Tradition
As the ‘heir’ of the world’s most sacred corporate institutions, Welch had a choice of whether to respect the company’s tradition and long-standing reputation for excellence or defy a century of history, rocking the existing boat. Welch made the riskiest move - defying most every aspect of the company’s history to make GE the most competitive enterprise in the world. To him, what worked in the past would not necessarily work in the future.
Let’s look at Welch’s tips for success:
· Hold a ‘why do we do it that way?’ meeting
· Invite colleagues from your department to contribute one idea on changing something important at the company
· Don’t be afraid to buck conventional wisdom
Don’t Make Hierarchy Rule, but Intellect
Welch thinks it is a horrible way to run a business when managers rule and the staff listen and do what the managers say. To him, it prevents good ideas and creative solutions to problems. Welch believed business is about capturing intellect and that the organization must encourage people to articulate their ideas and solutions. To do so, Welch turned GE into a learning organization in which ideas and intellect rule over tradition and hierarchy.
How we can immerse ourselves in learning?
· Spend 1 hour per week learning what competitors are doing
· Offer a reward for the best idea
· Work for organizations committed to training and learning
Pounce Everyday, Don’t Move Cautiously
In today’s lightning-paced competitive arena and wired world, Welch knows there is no time to deliberate or consider thoughts. He wants his employees to ‘pounce everyday’, move faster than competitors to win business, please customers and snap up opportunities. His strategies were to remove the shackles from employee’s feet so they could move quickly.
How to live this edict?
· Live with a sense of urgency
· Make decisions faster
· Work harder
Put Values First, not Numbers
Certainly Welch cares about the numbers, but he doesn’t want to spend too much time on figures and not enough time on values. GE’s values are not based on antiquated ideas about etiquette and proper behavior. Instead, the values include pleasing customers, disdaining bureaucracy, thinking globally and being open to ideas.
To balance the attention of numbers and values:
· Don’t harp on the numbers
· Lead by examples
· Let values rule
Don’t try to Manage Everything, Manage Less
This means no micro managing details. Companies should encourage their employees to have their own opinions and think for themselves. Welch believes it is the responsibility of the company to provide the tools and training employees need to perform their jobs better. In the end, it is the manager’s job to create the vision and let their team act on it. It is best to stay away from ‘over management’.
To avoid being a micro-manager:
· Don’t get bogged down in meaningless details
· Manage less
· Empower, delegate, get out of the way