Friday, July 11, 2008

Jack and Suzy Welch at the MA Conference for Women

(Note: I first wrote this piece last December, when I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women. This is when I started to blog for my I'm taking some of these blog posts public.)

Jack Welch is an incredible business leader, no doubt about it. And, in many ways, he was the one who gave me the kick in the pants to start blogging. So, consider this another great career launched by Jack Welch!

I saw Jack and his wife Suzy speak at the Massachusetts Conference for Women last December. One of the things they pointed out that resonated most strongly with me was that our success depends on the choices we make…so this will be a recurring theme of my blog: choices.

This is something that spoke to me, as I have struggled for the past 6 years with both my ambition and my work/life balance. I like the idea of choices because it puts accountability back on each person’s shoulders. Each day we make choices, and I personally think we have to own the choices we make.

Anyway, I was prepared to not like Jack and Suzy Welch. I was ready to roll my eyes and make snide comments to Nancy throughout this talk. Instead, I found myself nodding in agreement and almost saying, “Amen, brother!” to some of the things they said.

Anyway, I thought Jack had some good pointers on what makes a good leader. It was all new to me, since I only have time to read Olivia books and such at night, but his insights into the 4 E’s of good leaders has been around for a while. Good leaders:
  • Have a lot of Energy
  • Energize others
  • Have Edge (defined further as someone who says “Yes” or “No”)
  • And can Execute. If you can’t deliver, forget it!

He added Passion…which I believe is true. Whenever people are passionate about what they do, they do it better. I know work better when I’m a believer in what I’m doing…that’s why I like internal communications. I feel like I’m the voice of the people or I’m trying to reach the people…it becomes personal to me!

Jack also said there were 4 types of leaders, and you can rate them on 2 factors: values and performance. The types of leaders you keep are:
  • A leader with both values and performance
  • A leader with the values, but not the performance yet…what you do is move this person around, room him/her, give him/her another chance.

It’s a no brainer that you don’t keep the leader who doesn’t have either values or performance, but surprisingly, Jack said you also have to dump the leader with performance and no values. Bottom line—or my take away—is that you can teach performance or skill people up, but you can’t teach values (integrity). You either have it or you don’t.

Another topic they tackled was how to spot a leader, how to hire someone for the top job. Three qualities Jack mentioned were authenticity, resilience (get back on the horse after you’ve been thrown off) and being able to see around corners, see what’s next.

That’s great when you’re looking for the next president of the division…but it also works for everyday people (like me). More relevant, though, Suzy said that boredom is deadly. To be successful you should always push yourself, be tested, and always want to do better. Jack picked up on the point and added that you should never be satisfied, be constantly reaching, and have the courage take risks.

I found Jack and Suzy to be refreshingly honest. When the host Karen Swenson tried to pander to the audience about “What about a work/life balance?” Jack out and out scoffed. You don’t get to be the CEO of GE at age 44 by having a work life balance, was the gist of his answer. YES! Thank you for telling the truth, Jack! I really wish more people would acknowledge this and then we could all move on!

For more on Jack and Suzy Welch, check out their podcast on Business Week or just do a search on Amazon—you’ll find tons of their books.