Learnings from Jack Welch

Excerpts from a talk by Fast Company’s editor in chief, John Byrne, who also worked with Jack Welch on his book “Jack: Straight from the Gut”:

Fast Company believes that work is the ultimate expression of who we are. Work is not a 9-5 pursuit. It should be an extension of us. Leadership should be inspirational and not dogmatic. Organizations should be meritocracies.

During my 1,000 hours with [Jack Welch], here’s the person I saw and what I learned about leadership. I learned that you cannot be successful in life if you do not have an extraordinary focus on people. You can not create anything that will endure without the support of people who work on your behalf to get things done. How do you focus on people in a way that clears the crap out? Here’s what I saw in Welch. I saw a teacher, a mentor, and a relentlessly demanding boss. I saw a man who could just as easily praise you, hug you, and kiss you on the cheek — and just as easily tell you you were full of shit without any problem. I saw a person who spent 60% of his time with the people in his organization, another 30% on his customers, and another 10% on the crap you have to deal with when you lead anything.

The other thing I saw about Jack that was remarkable was passion. I love passion. I’m glad I work for a magazine about people who have passion. I hate people who don’t care. And that’s what Jack was all about: Passion. You could walk into a room and feel the energy. Passion was what Jack Welch is all about. It’s why two months before retirement he’s looking at refrigerator ads. It’s why every Friday he replies to an email memo. It’s why he took the afternoon to teach a leadership class every month for 20 years.

Another thing I saw with Jack was a terrific ability to communicate. He was able to take complex ideas and communicate them in simple ways through an entire organization. We’re going to be #1 or 2 in a market. If we’re not #1 or 2, we’re going to fix it or close it. Simple as that. Simple, clear, perfect. That’s what strategy should be.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.