Jack Welch, GE’s larger-than-life CEO for over 20 years, transformed the company into one of the world’s most successful businesses. Revenues grew five-fold, from $25 billion to $130 billion; income grew ten-fold, from $1.5 billion to $15 billion; and the company’s market capitalization had a 30-fold increase of more than $400 billion. How did he do it – and what lessons can we all learn from his leadership style?
Welch knew that revolutions begin at the top. He made GE leaner, tougher, and more competitive by ignoring the common sentiment that GE was too iconic to be tampered with. Instead, he applied a “survival of the fittest” rule to his businesses and his team. Those who succeeded were those who were needed.
At a recent seminar for Long Island business leaders, I recently presented my own take on the powerful leadership lessons that Welch wrote about in his business bible, Winning. Over the years, Welch’s style has helped me act like a leader, not a manager. Here, I share Welch’s leadership rules that will help you play to win.
1. Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach, and build self-confidence.
Leaders make sure that the right people are in the right seats, support and advance those who are, and move out those who aren’t. A leader is a coach: guiding, critiquing, and helping their team improve performance. There is no event in your day that can’t be used to help build someone’s self-confidence.
2. Leaders make sure people not only see the vision, but live and breathe it.
Leaders must ensure that the vision filters down to everyone. It’s your role as a leader to make the team’s vision come alive. Be specific; avoid jargon and vague goals. Leaders talk about vision constantly, to the point that they are sick of hearing themselves. I’m sure my colleagues are tired of hearing me – and that’s a good thing!
3. Leaders get into everyone’s skin, exuding positive energy and optimism.
A leader’s mood is catching. Upbeat managers with positive outlooks tend to run teams of people with similar outlooks – while sourpuss managers have their own miserable tribes. As a leader, you don’t sugarcoat the challenges, but you must display a can-do attitude about overcoming them. I’ve learned this firsthand, when I realized that my attitude on a given day directly affects the general sentiment at the office that day. Your job is to fight negativity and inspire others to rise to challenges.
4. Leaders establish trust with candor, transparency, and credit.
For some people, being in a leadership role is just a power trip – and there’s no quicker way to drain the trust out of a team. Instead, leaders must build trust – by being transparent, candid, and keeping their word. Your prize for being a leader isn’t a crown – it’s the responsibility and privilege of bringing out the best in others. Trust is key.
5. Leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions.
You’re a leader to lead, not to win a popularity contest. To retain trust, you must listen and explain your decisions clearly – but you must keep moving forward.
6. Leaders probe and push with a curiosity that borders on skepticism, making sure their questions are answered with action.
As you worked your way up the ranks, your job was to have all the answers. But as a leader, your job is to have all the questions. In every conversation, you must ask “What if…,” “Why not…,” and “How come?”
7. Leaders inspire risk-taking and learning by setting the example.
To help your team experiment and expand their minds, set the example yourself. Talk freely about mistakes you’ve made (I sure do). It’s not about being preachy – it’s about being relatable and lighthearted. You must teach your team that mistakes aren’t fatal.
8. Leaders celebrate.
Sure, you may have a holiday party – but what do you do to recognize your team’s achievements? How do you reward valuable team members for a job well done? Celebrate your successes and you’re bound to have more of them.