Dear Mr Welch:
I have never been very fond of you. It’s nothing personal. Over the years, I have admired your energy, your stamina, your drive and determination, the Attila the Hun inside of you. But over my business studies, I got tired of finding you in every single slide presentation and, not your fault, the MBA faculty using GE, which you headed at that time, to illustrate good management of normal companies. But GE was far from a normal company, not in statistical terms at least, nor in any other term. It felt like meeting the same guest over and over at all the dinners.
Also, you invented ‘contingency leadership’ (Ok, you never called it this perhaps), which has perpetuated the very dangerous ‘it depends’ phenomena: we treat people depending on circumstances. This is a recipe for the moral compass to get a bit stuck. Your (contingent) pragmatism is clear when you refer to ‘green products’ by saying that every business must embrace green products and green ways of doing business, ‘whether you believe in global warming or not…because the world wants these products’. So if people did not want green products, that would change the plans, right? I think, in fact, that you invented the word ‘contingent’ but now I am off track.
You recently published in Linkedin ‘ 10 Leadership Lessons You Don’t Want to Learn the Hard Way’. Good read. 4 million followers in LinkedIn allows you to say that the world is round and get 3000 likes, a quarter of a million views and 500 comments. Good for you! However, I’d like to add a line or two to your 10 points, if I may.
‘Your company’s values and your personal values must be compatible’.
Question is, who defines those values and how they are articulated? I wish you could say more, because, as it is, it tells me that as long as the company lists integrity as a value, and I am OK with that, we all are OK. Mmm, why does the word Enron come to my mind?
‘Differentiation breeds meritocracy. Sameness breeds mediocrity’.
Agree. For differentiation, did you mean diversity of ideas as well?
‘In a performance culture, actions have to have consequences — positive or negative’.
I read between the lines that your eyes are on the ‘negative consequences’. After all, you were very good at getting rid of the bottom 10% of employees every year as a consequence of being in the bottom 10%. Agree however that dealing with bad performance and having difficult conversations is something still missing in many organizations. My problem is your Bell Curve, mathematic solution of letting go the 10% at the bottom, something that did spread in copycat mode through the business world, with zero critical thinking attached.
‘Creating an environment of candour and trust is a must’.
Agree. Although ‘candour’ is one of these terms that when coming from American managers one has to be careful and ask many times for its meaning. Its not a term of equal semantic value across cultures.
‘Attracting, developing and retaining world-class talent is your never-ending job’.
Question: So, if somebody is already a world-class talent, do you develop him or does he develop you?
‘You must distinguish between coachable development needs in your people and fatal flaws’.
And who defines what a fatal flaw is? Management? Would then management be free of fatal flaws?
‘Simple, consistent, focused communications travel faster and are understood better by the organization’.
‘There is nothing more developmental and illuminating than dealing with adversity’.
So say the many thousands of people you fired? A hundred thousand? Something like that. That was the time you were called Neutron Jack (buildings left intact, otherwise fatalities).
‘Over time, you have to develop a real generosity gene — and love to see each person on your team earn raises, get promotions and grow personally’.
I take note of your ‘over time’, that is, don’t rush into it, take your time, generosity will come at some point, right? What timeframe do you have in mind to develop generosity?
‘Continuous learning is critical for success — make it a priority’.
Yeap. And Un-learning is even better (as your successors in GE have implemented).
I even read lots of what you say, now that you are not on the MBA slides. Mind you, you now run an MBA-sort-of- school. Mmm.