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Jack Welsh's take on developing leadership skills

  
  
  
  

The idea that you will get better at things that you emphasize is a universal concept, and one that especially applies in the area of leadership development.

One business leader who placed a great emphasis on developing leaders was former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch. Christopher A. Bartlett and Meg Wozny examined Welch's approach in great detail in an HBS case,  "GE’s Two-Decade Transformation: Jack Welch’s Leadership."

Welch not only required the top executives at each business unit to identify future leaders, but he made coaching, training and developing them a performance metric carrying practically equal weight to financial results.

One paragraph from the HBR article which leapt out at me highlights how Welch continued to invest, and actually increased spending when a major corporate focus was cost cutting.  Sound like the environment we're in today?

"A key institution that Welch harnessed to bring about this cultural change was GE’s Crotonville management development facility. Welch wanted to convert Crotonville from its management training focus and its role as a reward or a consolation prize for those who missed out on a promotion to a powerful engine of change in his transformation effort. In the mid-1980s, when he was cutting costs almost everywhere else, he spent $45 million on new buildings and improvements at Crotonville. He also hired some experienced academics—Jim Baughman from Harvard and Noel Tichy from Michigan—to revolutionize Crotonville’s activities."

Welch’s emphasis on leadership development is one of the major reasons why GE posted a 23% total shareholder return per annum during his twenty-year tenure, and underscores the importance of investing in people.

This is especially true today, as many companies have reorganized their business units since the 2008 economic downturn, and may be asking employees to do more work with less resources. This environment requires more rather than less collaboration between business units.  Cuts in layers of management have increased spans of control, but leading a larger team requires ratcheting up soft skills dramically and effectively communicating a vision to members of a team, who are fired up to execute with little top-down supervision.

I'd wager that most of the companies that have thrived in the midst of our recession are led by individuals who have successfully shared a vision, focused their teams on collabaration and continued to invest in their people.

Turning back to GE, the organization is still a powerhouse years after Jack Welch's retirement.  And of course, it just so happens that GE has utilized GEL's BoatWorks program in the forging of a new group in the organization.  The video below provides a taste of their experience.

Visit our BoatWorks Service description to learn more, or ask us for help designing a custom initiative for you.

Information from Christopher A. Bartlett and Meg Wozny’s GE’s Two-Decade Transformation: Jack Welch’s Leadership, published by the Harvard Business School, was used in this post. It can be purchased by logging onto the Harvard Business Review’s website, which is linked here.