By Steve Graham

“When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

– Jack Welch

Jack Welch, the CEO who famously built General Electric (GE) to a successful model for corporate management excellence, recently passed away. Many believe he left an inspirational legacy of leadership and success for others to emulate. His passing inspired me to address one of his core beliefs – the essence of successful leadership centers on aligning a company culture around the growth of its people, with a focus on shared results.

Welch proved that with the right people you can accomplish the seemingly impossible. His actions implied that for him, individual and company growth was the foundation of success. After he staffed GE with the best and the brightest, he famously raised the bar.

  • First, he pushed his direct reports by regularly setting audacious goals, like becoming number one or number two in every one of their markets, divesting of those businesses that could not hit the mark. GE Sold 71 businesses in his first two years as CEO.
  • Then, never content with allowing people to rest on their laurels, GE began rewarding those who showed personal growth. GE was one of the first to offer stock options tying leaders to company results and removing the poorest performers from the company.

As I reflect on his legacy, there are several important messages worth highlighting that we embrace every day in the work that we do with our clients:

Growing your team members’ skills and responsibilities expands your reach

  • At first it seems counter-intuitive, but the more you can delegate the more you can accomplish. The keys to delegating more effectively are twofold. First, carefully select those who are capable to assume appropriate responsibilities for you. Then, clearly articulate the standards they must meet to complete work. As you grow the skill set of your team, the more you will get done together.
  • None of us is perfect. Use insight, like the assessments we provide, to learn what you do well and do more of that work. Then for the things you don’t do well, either find others whose strengths can complement you, or find another source to do those things for you.

You become more attractive to customers by expanding capability of your team

  • Your team members are your face to the community. They are your brand. By growing the knowledge and expertise on your team you can offer more options, better support, and faster response.
  • Building on the skills available enables your business to service more needs, more efficiently, easing scheduling challenges.

You can improve the stability of your team

  • By serving the development needs of employees you also create a desirable and attractive workplace for potential candidates. Typically, millennials and Gen-Zs actively seek opportunities to develop.
  • Since offering opportunities to build on their skill set is an incentive for your team members to stay, you can lower turnover which can be costly.

You can’t deny the financial success of Jack Welch’s reign at GE. The year before he became CEO, GE recorded annual revenues just under $27 billion – the year before he left revenue was almost $130 billion. Of course there was a cost to this success.

  • I’ve heard that at times the demands made employees feel like they were working in a pressure cooker.
  • He was also one of the first to remove poor performers from a business even when it was profitable. Those who lost their employment were not always enamored with Mr. Welch.

Regardless, there are some positive lessons we can learn from his leadership example. It is important for each business owner or business leadership team to form a clear definition of their desired mission, vision, and core team values and then take the appropriate actions to nurture and sustain the culture.