After more than 20 years leading GE, former CEO Jack Welch knows something about management, and he isn’t afraid to make his opinions known. Speaking in New York Tuesday evening, he rang some alarm bells about how our government is performing and why training the next generation of corporate leaders is so critical. His overall theme: There are too few good people willing and able to execute an idea.
There is no shortage of ideas and plans for fixing the nation’s fiscal problems, for example. Republicans offer plans. Democrats offer different plans. They all come at some cost, which is always amplified by the opposition. Although there are dozens of plans that will probably be effective in cutting the nation’s debt and deficit in the long run, we will never be able to get to a better America without execution of a plan. Any plan. Welch warned of the day, for example, when foreign buyers might not show up to the Treasury’s bond auction because of concerns that the U.S. government will have trouble meeting its obligations.
Asked how to change legislators’ short-term thinking when the nation increasingly requires longer-term solutions, Welch quipped that a legislator’s term consists of six months of legislating and eighteen months of fundraising for the next campaign. He said the nation needs “leaders who are not afraid of not being elected again” – something lots of people would agree with.
Welch praised his students at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and now in the online MBA program at the Jack Welch Institute at Chancellor University for their intelligence and intensity. But he added that sometimes the more intelligent the student, the less effective he or she tends to be as a manager. He said he worries that business school curricula underemphasize practical job skills. Good managers have to be able to communicate their ideas to motivate and lead employees.
When an audience member asked, “When is it okay to bypass your boss with an issue or idea and escalate it to the CEO?” Welch quickly responded, “When, you’re willing to put your job on the line.” The audience snickered, but he was dead serious.
As Welch pointed out, the issue is not lack of ideas. The issue is a lack of people who are willing and able to put their ideas in motion and follow through to completion. Welch’s solution is elegant and simple. We need leaders with real conviction in their beliefs and ideas who can and will execute, even at the risk of losing their jobs, because that’s what drives corporate success. But he added, “Finding the guy is hard.”
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