Leadership Profile: Jack Welch

October 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

I first heard Jack Welch speak at the Leadercast Seminar in 2013. Even though he was over a decade into retirement and in his upper 70s, Welch’s rich enthusiasm for business and leadership took the audience (and the moderator) by storm. In raising General Electric’s value by over 4000% in his twenty years as CEO, Welch has to be considered one of the iconic American business men of the second half of the 20th century. What surprised me was how much fun he seemed to have in the process.

The greatest part of Welch’s contribution may be in the form of giving back – by sharing his knowledge of business and management with all sorts of audience and through various speaking engagements and books he’s written in his retirement. Here’s a snip-it of what I picked up.

Image by Joshua Zumbrun

Image by Joshua Zumbrun

Leadership is a “People” Job

Welch bottomlined the need for people development at Leadercast by stating that “If you don’t like people, leadership stinks!” At GE, Welch calculated that 70% of his job was developing people, contrary to the belief some managers hold that it comes after regular job duties. This means looking for teachable moments throughout your day as you interact with your team. Additionally, in his book Winning, Welch harps on the necessity of candor, not only when it comes to business decisions, but personnel reviews as well. “You have no right calling yourself a leader if people don’t know where they stand with you,” Welch says.

Self-Confidence is a Must

Not only does business tend to favor the “energetic and extroverted,” as Welch acknowledges, so does society in general. But that doesn’t mean shy and introverted (albeit skilled) people lack the opportunity to succeed. The key is self-confidence. A person with self-confidence trusts his gut. She speaks up in meetings when something needs to be said (even if it’s unpopular). He knows how to get the most from his talents and takes appropriate risks in the face of uncertainty. Ultimately, it’s behavior and results, not personality, that get rewarded.

The additional point Welch stresses for leaders is their responsibility to develop self-confidence among their people. Don’t wait for them to pick it up on their own. “Pump them full of it,” he says.

Know When to Quit

One decision Welch is famous for is setting the directive that each GE business would be #1 or #2 in its industry or else get out altogether. The important element in this directive was clarity. No one needed to guess whether a business should stay open or not. They knew that if it was #3 or lower, the decision had already been made. Of course there was occasional criticism, but Welch highlighted that most leaders don’t like to let go because they prefer to run big things. Pruning reduces the portfolio, which hurts when the mindset is that bigger is always better. But not only that, when a business is sold from a weak position to someone who is in a strong position, it’s really a huge favor for everyone.

Not only should leaders know when to quit on a business, Welch encouraged them to have the self-confidence to quit their jobs if the organization was not providing enough developmental opportunities for them. Leaders owe it to themselves and it keeps the organization accountable.

Welch certainly made a lasting impression on business not just in American but all over the world. If you’d like to learn more of his ideas about leadership philosophy, managing a company, managing competition or managing your career, I suggest you pick up a copy of Winning for yourself. I’m sure glad I did!

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.