Jack Welch: Leadership Lessons For The Hybrid Workplace
As we enter the hybrid workplace, these five leadership lessons from legendary CEO Jack Welch are increasingly relevant
Are you an aspiring leader who wants to take the next step in your career? Turning to the man who at one time was named ‘manager of the century’ by Fortune magazine might be a good place to start.
Jack Welch led General Electric as chairman and CEO for two decades between 1981 and 2001, and his management legacy lives on posthumously in the four principles and eight rules of leadership that current and future leaders can take from his time at the top.
At the Jack Welch Management Institute, students on the MBA are taught to win in business, and have Jack Welch leadership lessons instilled within them from day one.
And even though the world has changed dramatically during the Covid pandemic, and hybrid working is set to increase, his leadership principles and lessons still ring true.
Here are the key Jack Welch leadership lessons that will help you succeed in the hybrid workplace.
1. Leaders make sure people not only see the vision, they live and breathe it
Having and communicating a common vision across an organization is vital in a hybrid world. It can be easy while working from home to fall out of sync with your colleagues and lose sight of what you’re working towards.
Jack Welch himself, in a Harvard Business Review article, explains that ‘good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.’
Having everyone going in the same direction is a key facet of leadership, adds Dan Hecht, professor of leadership at the Jack Welch Management Institute.
“As a start, make sure […] that you are very clear depending on your role of the mission and objectives of the team, and set that clearly when you’re communicating so you’re consistent and inspiring and people know in which direction they’re driving.”
The first course students take on the JWMI MBA is Leadership in the 21st Century, which Dan teaches. On the course students learn to understand who they are as individuals, how they lead within teams, and how they lead within the organization.
Communication and clarity run central to that even in a hybrid world. “The principles stay the same, but it takes a little more effort to bring it to life,” Dan notes. “In the hybrid workplace you have to be more intentional.”
2. Leaders get into everyone’s skin, exuding positive energy and optimism
An effective leader will drive motivation and positivity through their teams. Feeling comfortable and motivated is one of the essential ingredients to start engaging and developing new ideas—key when managing a hybrid workforce that might not always be working in close physical proximity.
“Having that positive energy, enthusiasm, and optimism within our current environment, and staying positive and trying to figure out innovative ideas or solutions, can drive results for our organization,” explains Chinue (Chin) Uecker, professor of operations and Leadership in the 21st Century at JWMI.
3. Leaders establish trust with candor, transparency, and credit
Managing at a distance requires building trust among your employees— how do you ensure your teams are going to continue to be productive and work to full capacity at home?
One of the Jack Welch leadership lessons students on the JWMI MBA learn is how to build trust with candor, transparency, and credit.
“Something Jack is known for is candor,” says Dan. With that comes one of the foundational pillars of management: leading and giving feedback for the benefit of other people.
The courage to give candid feedback, asserts Dan, needs to come from the point of view of wanting to see your employees learn and grow.
“You’re doing it not to be critical but to help them grow, and for student’s that’s not just eye opening but heart opening,” Dan says. “When students realize that and pursue those conversations, they say they wish they’d have done it years ago.
“You need to make sure the ongoing communication is clear and candid and builds up trust, because the hybrid workplace also requires immense amounts of trust between everybody.”
4. Leaders inspire risk-taking and learning by setting the example
Leaders leading by example isn’t a new concept. We all respond better to seeing senior leadership act in the same way they expect their teams to behave.
“Jack wrote his book back in 2005, and those lessons are applicable in 2021, in the pandemic we’re going through leaders can still apply these rules,” Chin notes.
“During this topsy turvy environment leaders still have to show up,” she adds. “Leaders still need to set the example for their teams in order for their employees to feel comfortable with what's going on in the world.”
5. Leaders celebrate!
One of Dan’s students, a 55-year-old leader who owned his own company, turned to this leadership lesson during the pandemic. At the end of a month during which they had strong performance, figures he hosted a lunch banquet for all employees at one of his manufacturing plants and turned up to serve the food himself.
“He couldn’t believe the impact it had on every employee, and how he got to know his employees better,” explains Dan. “It really helps students from a leadership perspective to realize that it’s not about you, the leader, it’s about them, the team.”
Celebrating employee wins has been vital during the pandemic, as working from home has in some cases negatively impacted employee mental health.
However, as we recover and move forward with a hybrid workplace, celebrating success across hybrid teams becomes more about inclusion and recognition as well as a way to drive motivation, regardless of your sector.
“I think Jack Welch’s principles of leadership are applicable in any industry, and he was so wise that there was room for flexibility,” says Chin, “because the first lesson of leadership is understanding who you are as a leader, and that’s applicable anywhere.”
Jack Welch’s leadership lessons can be adopted and applied no matter who you lead. And, in a world turned upside down by the Covid pandemic, where we have to navigate the new challenges of the hybrid workplace, current and future leaders would be hard pressed to find a better philosophy to tap into.