What You Can Learn from Jack Welch

Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric for twenty years, was ranked as one of the most influential business leaders of the latter 20th century. This article summarizes the six basic lessons he provided on the topic of leadership.

Welch's approach to leadership has been extensively studied, and it's unlikely that a brief article can do justice. While the author concedes that, I remain leery of the claim that these are "the six basic lessons" - as if there are only six, and as if these are even the most fundamental or important concepts.

1: Put the right people in the right jobs.

Welch believed in the power of people to get things done. One of his first actions as CEO was to abolish the company's planning process, an elaborate web of procedures that, in his eyes, was designed to prevent innovation.

He sought out individuals with four characteristics: high energy levels, the ability to foster the enthusiasm of others, the ability to make difficult decisions, and the ability to consistently execute and deliver results.

He primarily focused on the top 20% of his managers to drive the business, considered the other 70% in need of leadership and improvement, and the bottom 10% to be a write-off.

2: Come up with a few key ideas, and push for them.

Vague objectives are almost never accomplished, except by accident, and a leader who is running in a dozen different directions can accomplish small successes but not complete victories. To be effective, focus on a small number of very specific goals, and fight to make them realities.

3: Hate bureaucracy.

When possible, eliminate processes and systems that create a detailed and formal process for doing routine things, and instead enable people to hash things out informally.

When looking at the organization structure, keep the hierarchy thin. When considering departments and positions, look for a direct relationship to the objectives of the business. If there is none, question its necessity.

4: Talk straight, speak your mind, even to a degree bordering on brutal candor. Expect others to do the same.

There are a few observations of Welsh's interpersonal style: it was direct and often confrontational. He claimed to want people to argue with him, though it is noted that there was some question about the amount of push-back he really tolerated from his subordinates.

5: Keep moving forward. Act and don't look back.

Not much detail here - just two sentences - indicating Welch favored action over talk, and didn't see much point reflecting on the past.

6: Always make your numbers.

The "numbers" a manager must meet are his goals - and failure to achieve them is failure to be effective at the most important tasks you are assigned.