Jeff Immelt, GE CEO On Leadership

May 30, 2014 1 Min Read

Jeff Immelt

By Jeff Immelt (General Electric CEO)

I am a student of leadership. I always think about it during Session C (Note: GE’s internal succession planning and people strategy process which happens annually across their organisation), and in every meeting or conference that I attend. I am always learning.

At GE, we invest a lot in education, much of which goes to developing leaders. We are pretty good at training leaders. But we are constantly striving to do better.

I find that most leaders are the composition of three “work streams.” The first is experience and this is very important. We learn a lot from various jobs in different business cycles. I have often said that I wouldn’t be CEO today if I hadn’t served as the Appliances Service Leader during the rotary compressor recall in the late 80s.

The second is education and this is unique to GE. We are constantly viewing the outside world for new leadership tools. Crotonville is dedicated to creating leaders. In addition, reading can also help leaders frame ideas.

The third area is difficult to teach or learn from experience. These are the unique personal traits that are deep within each of us; some that we have had all of our lives. I have seen these traits as I have spent time with our senior leaders. Over time, I have observed “7 Personal Traits” that good leaders have in common:

  • Ultra-competitive (About the right things). Leaders must want to win, and do it the right way. A part of this is paranoia and fear of failure. They need to achieve in areas that help the company, not themselves.
  • Curious. Leaders need to recognize that they never know enough. There are always people and experiences to learn from.
  • Self-Aware + Self Confidence (in the right measure). Leaders who are self-aware, but not self-confident, can’t make decisions. Leaders who are self-confident, and not self-aware, are jerks. Both are needed to get things done.
  • Resiliency with Capacity. Leaders must be able to “take a punch” to get things done. In this era of great volatility, things are never perfect. At the same time, good leaders must have capacity for work. Resiliency and capacity give a leader breadth and depth.
  • A “nose” for risk and reward. Leaders and businesses must take risk; the key is to understand if the risk is worth reward. I see leaders on both sides of this equation – too risky and too risk averse. Leaders can prioritize the risks that count; they know what is worth fighting for. They never fear accountability.
  • The ability to stand apart. Leaders drive change. Change, on the first day, has a “constituency of one.” Good leaders must stand away from the pack. Once or twice a year, I have to ask the CEC to “just do it my way.” Knowing when to “stand apart” is a difficult task.
  • Be a giver, not a taker. Ultimately, peers determine how far you go… the people around you, but not in the chain of command. Good leaders give of themselves… they are a friend when no one is looking and when the times are toughest. Be a giver.

These are the deep personal traits that make a difference. They are difficult to train. Fortunately, we have a lot of leaders with these traits at GE.

Do you agree with Jeff Immelt? We would love to hear your comments below on what your take on leadership is and what your take on his thoughts on leadership are. For more leadership articles, click here! 

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