By Kevin Meyer
Regular readers know that I’m no big fan of Jack Welch, to put it mildly. My opinion is shared by many in the lean world, at least those that recognize that the second, oft-forgotten, pillar of lean is “respect for people.” A concept diametrically opposed to Welch “leadership” methods.
Unfortuntely the idol worship took hold. A generation of GE “leaders” and Welch worshippers barfed forth onto the business world and proceeded to decimate American manufacturing, and common sense for that matter. Welch held, and to some extent still holds, a power unrivaled since the pagan idols of ages old. I believe this was a significant contributor to the economic malaise of the last several years as the gullible followed his advice to outsource, chase cheap labor, whack employees, and measure success and value purely by the increase in stock price.
Under Jack’s successor, Jeff Immelt, GE has started to return ever so slightly to the real world. Some GE folks have realized the fallacy of chasing cheap labor and have even decided to move appliance manufacturing back to America. The company even claims to have “discovered lean“… 25 years after many other companies. So be it, kudos to where kudos are due.
But they still have a long ways to go, especially from a leadership, particularly servant leadership, perspective. That was reinforced again this past week when Immelt penned a piece for LinkedIn on How to Differentiate Great Leaders from Good Leaders. In it he lists five questions he uses to discern great from the merely good:
- Is the leader self-aware?
- Is the leader committed to the organization and do they drive change?
- Is the leader a giver or a taker?
- Is the leader a critical thinker?
- Does the leader have a dream for themselves and the company?
Good characteristics, but the lean cognoscenti will immediately recognize a couple missing key aspects of real leadership. Before I get to that, let’s compare this list to another article published last week. This piece was by Mike Myatt, in Forbes, describing Brigadier General Brian Layer’s 10 Ways to Make Each Day a Leadership Masterpiece. The ten:
- Excel in the moment.
- Invest in a relationship and build trust.
- Help someone else achieve and grow.
- Connect someone to your vision, mission, and priorities.
- Thank someone.
- Prepare for the known and study for the unknown.
- Prepare for an important decision.
- Leverage white space.
- Grow physically, mentally, spiritually.
Now… compare that to Immelt’s list. Everyone should be able to see what’s missing – the core of real leadership. And why Immelt and GE still have such a very long ways to go. I’ll distill it down to two key concepts:
- Leverage people… including yourself.
- Learn… and teach.
I’ve discussed both many times in the past as they are my personal hot buttons. Respect for people is a core pillar of lean, and not recognizing that is probably the primary reason lean transformations fail. Do you consider people a cost, or a value? A liability, or an asset? Regardless of what your traditional P&L tells you, and what that mission or vision statement on the wall, which hasn’t been looked at in years, says. Are people really your most important asset? If so, how do you protect, nurture, and grow that asset? Or do you just fly all over the world chasing a lower cost for the hands attached to the valuable brain you ignore? Be honest…
In a somewhat similar manner since it also leverages people, I’ve also found that the best leaders are those that voraciously seek out and consume knowledge, then distill, implement appropriate new concepts, and especially teach. In my experience this has also become a consistently powerful predictor of future leadership ability. Do you augment your leveraging of people by mentoring and raising the knowledge level of your organization? Not just by paying for training, but by making a personal commitment of time and effort?
Brian Layer gets it. He’s a leader that challenges himself, is humble, and recognizes the value of people. Jack and Jeff could learn a thing, or actually two, from him.