Leadership lessons from Jack Welch

The youngest CEO and Chairman of GE at 46 he led the organisation from 1980 to 2001 growing the business by 4000%.  He led GE as it diversified from consumer appliances, air conditioning to medical technology, finance, TV and services during his tenure.

Neutron Jack

‘Neutron Jack’  – (He eliminated the employees while leaving the buildings) – would be a harsh summary for this career-minded corporate executive. He has always had a lot to say and never pulls his punches. While his strident gung ho style may grate in the new touchy-feely world we live in how different are the practices of large corporates today? Has the language softened but the philosophy is still the same? If you don’t perform you’re out! and even if you do you’re out… if the person next to you has done better…?

On strategy-making

Strategy, for at least as those of us over 40 used to know it, is dead. It’s irrelevant. Big, staged biannual sessions with elaborate presentations about “trends” and “core competencies” and the like? Meetings before the meetings to establish buy-in with “internal constituents”? Forget it. Markets move too fast for any of that old ritual. They move too fast, and they change too fast. Effective strategy-making is about the future—and the markets. Customers and competitors today, tomorrow, and a year from now, technology coming down the pike sooner and later, products not yet invented, looming social and political events. You name it—as long as it is out there. “The main thing that has caused companies to fail, in my view, is that they missed the future.”

On consumers

Most consumers have their backs up and their hands over their ears. You can try to reach them with a jackhammer or megaphone. Sometimes that works—otherwise, there wouldn’t be mattress and car dealership ads screaming at you on late-night TV. They are both anaesthetized by wall-to-wall marketing noise and defensive about being emotionally manipulated. Yet, to grow, every company has to sell its stuff. How do you break through the wall?

On messaging

It’s only great if it gets results. And that’s what testing tells you. Getting the best creative today is all about letting go of your ego and learning to love the data, or at the very least, learning to rely on it. In the old days, there were focus groups. They delivered useful information. And sometimes they still do. But digital testing today makes focus groups seem practically antique.

On marketing

Marketing’s killer app is a desirable product that makes the customer’s life better in some way. That’s just always going to be the case. Sure, a company can promote the living daylights out of a product that falls short of that standard, but such an effort is going to be expensive and, in time, unsustainable.

On disruption

In Silicon Valley, disastrous and sudden “disruptions” are so much a part of the fabric of everyday business, there’s even a popular acronym for them, WFIO, which stands for, “We’re F—, It’s Over.” Technology businesses, almost by nature, are whack-magnets.

On leadership

Leaders exist, in large part, to give purpose to their teams; to relentlessly, passionately explain, Here’s where we’re going. Here’s why. Here’s how we’re going to get there. Here’s how you fit in. And here’s what’s in it for you. Oh, and just as a reminder, once you’re done explaining all that, you need to do it again.

On silos

Silos kill speed. They kill ideas. They kill impact. Take the case of the medical software company that relies heavily on consumer marketing. The team have no end of creative ideas, but few reach fruition. Why? To start, every marketing plan must undergo a week-long legal review, followed by another week going up to various finance flagpoles for sign-offs. And once those two processes are complete? Another week for IT risk management assessments. And then, yet another week waiting for the Web team’s “locked down” weekly deployment schedule to come…

 On Amazon

Knows opportunity where it sees it, and in recent years it has been moving into your territory, using its usual tactics of killer pricing, killer shipping, and killer supply chain operations. If you want to stay and play, your only defence is going to be killer service. Lucky for you, your employees have certainly felt Amazon’s impact on their own lives, so they will intuitively understand why you are pushing them so hard for better performance. The enemy, so to speak, couldn’t be more real.”

On the embodiment of truth-and-trust leadership

At least twice a year, every employee meets with his or her manager. The manager puts in front of the employee a simple one-pager, preferably hand-written so it feels more personal. In the left column, the manager lists what he or she likes about the employee’s performance, and on the right, where they could improve. There’s then a conversation about how the employee is doing in terms of hitting his or her goals, strategic or financial, and how well they’re demonstrating the company’s key behaviours.

On performance management

Clarify the mission, name the behaviours, and then measure and reward people on how well they demonstrate both. Here’s how you’re helping us achieve the mission, and here’s what you could do better. Here’s how you’re demonstrating the behaviours we need, and here’s what you could do better. And finally: Here’s how your salary and bonus and your future here reflect what I’ve just said. That’s it. That’s the consequences part of the alignment. How hard does that sound? The promotion of people who demonstrate the mission and behaviours is a huge message, and a great source of encouraging reinforcement through the organisation. The same is true of outsized bonuses. Money talks; does it ever. We’re lucky if between 10 and 20% of our audiences raise their hands when we ask, “How many of you know where you stand in your organizations?”

On why you can’t fail

You cannot fail. Sure, you can royally screw up. You can run a project that flops. You can hire a dolt who wrecks your team’s karma. You can get asked to pack up your desk and go home. You can retire and wake up one morning to find you’re lost, tired, and bored out of your mind. No matter. It’s only over if it’s over in your head. Don’t ever let it be. Every ending is just an opportunity to start again, wiser, more experienced, and more emboldened”

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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