Jack Welch, of General Electric Fame, Knows How to Win and Lead (Part 1)

Introduction

Jack Welch is a candid man.  His entire book is a series of candid responses to the questions his fans and audiences at seminars would ask ranging from his views on Six Sigma and leadership to the status of his golf game and whether or not he thinks he will go to heaven.  His book was inspired by the inquisitive, “energized, curious, gutsy, and ambitious men and women who have loved business enough to ask me every possible question you could imagine” (Welch, 2005, p. 1, p. 9).  Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, Winning provides essential insights on success and leadership without making the eyelids heavy.

The first section of Winning is “conceptual” and treats a wide variety of Welch’s philosophies and explains his stance on the importance of a strong mission statement and “concrete values” (Welch, 2005, p. 7); essentially, Welch opens his 362-page lesson on winning in business with advise on how to create a corporate culture.  The second is about leadership and issues regarding human resources.   More specifically, in this unit, Welch teaches the reader how to lead as he did, find a suitable supporting cast in the office, and delegate appropriately (more on this unit in the following section of my review).

The next covers how to grow your business organically, design effective strategies, and other aspects of business directly affected by environmental factors.  He nearly mocks how “experts tend to talk about strategy – as if it is some kind of high-brain scientific methodology” and explains why managers must sometimes compromise their instincts if the organization’s leaders take a calculated risk and choose to grow organically by launching a new product or providing new services (Welch, 2005, p. 165, p. 205).  The organization can also grow through mergers and acquisitions, but can become blinded by a certain insidious frenzy to acquire an entity that only worsens as more bidders appear on the scene (Welch, 2005, p. 221).  Welch warns against not checking such behavior in Unit Three.  In the fourth, he talks about how to manage “the arc and the quality of your professional life” (Welch, 2005, p. 7-8), teaches patience in seeking a promotion and provides insights on how to identify the perfect job.

Then, he ends the book with a unit on miscellaneous questions that simply do not fit into either of the aforementioned categories (Welch, 2005, p. 7-8).  Among other topics, it focuses on China as both a nation and question looming in the minds of many managers and workers all over the world and how businesses in just about every continent are feeling the pressure.  Of course, as only he can, Welch enlivens all of his answers with a certain frankness and sparse use of mild expletives from page to page.

Now, before I tie in the key concept – leadership – an attempt to contextualize it within corporate culture is due.  After all, one cannot lead a team that lacks a clear mission and set of values, for they are the guidelines a leader must follow in order to resonate with both employees and the business as organic entities.  In such a situation, a leader would be hard pressed to formulate the organization’s values with his colleagues’ assistance and even compose a new mission statement.

The Context: Leadership Cannot Exist Without a Clear Mission or Values

Early in the book, Welch addresses missions and values: two terms he feels are “among the most abstract, overused, misunderstood words in business… [and] business schools add to the confusion by having their students regularly write mission statements and debate values… in a vacuum” (Welch, 2005, p. 13).  In this section, he emphasizes that mission statements should not leave your employees feeling cynical or lost; in fact, he states that a mission statement should delineate how the business will win (Welch, 2005, p. 14).  When creating a mission statement, the composer ought not to trouble herself with political correctness or hurting another senior executive’s feelings.  Instead, it ought to be based on the company’s strengths and weaknesses and set it on course to profitably achieve the goal.  He proceeds to mention anecdotal evidence of how General Electric’s top-level management team wrote a mission statement grounded in reality (not ridiculously overambitious or at all vague) that made its employees feel important.

Welch also mentions how Ben and Jerry’s, the liberal-minded ice cream company, actually considered stakeholders, profits, and sustainable growth in its relatively long yet clear mission statement.  Values also received due attention in this section.   Welch defines them toward the end of this discussion as “just behaviors – specific, nitty-gritty, and so descriptive they leave little to the imagination” (Welch, 2005, p. 17).  Toward the end of this chapter, he refers to how Bank One’s list of specific behaviors made its values tangible and real.  Effective creation of values requires specificity, clarity, and the active participation of many members of the organization since behaviors help define the corporate culture.  They must be representative of employees’ ethics and vice-versa.  After dealing with the most important internal factors in interpersonal relations at the office, Welch turns to his discussion on the company itself and leadership.

So, with a satisfactory understanding of “Welchian” corporate culture and how to set the tone for how members of your team will approach their work, we segue to the next concept.  The team knows the job at hand.  Now it is time to lead them to the goal.

<to be continued in next week’s post>

Cam Suarez-Bitar

Here is the bibliographical data on Welch’s book:

Welch, Jack and Welch, Suzy.  (2005).  Winning.  New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Thank you for your readership and stay tuned… next week I will add the section directly related to leadership.

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    • Juan Martinez
    • February 4th, 2010

    I truly enjoy reading your posts and this one is no different. Despite not having read ‘Winning’, I found your analysis both informative and entertaining. I am looking forward to part 2.

  1. Dear Juan,

    Thank you. I truly recommend “Winning” to anyone who would like additional insights on management and leadership. Its pages are filled with prescriptions for success written by someone who ascended his employer’s ranks over a span of 40 years and redefined GE’s corporate culture (for the better) when he became the company’s CEO.

    If you would like, please feel free to share your views on leadership and your preferred styles or methods as well… and thanks again for reading and participating.

    Best regards,

    Cam.

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