This post from Jeff Immelt, chairman of GE, originally appeared on LinkedIn. He shared it with employees on July 31, his final day as CEO. Immelt succeeded GE’s legendary previous CEO, Jack Welch, taking over on Sept. 7, 2001, four days before the terrorist attacks. He als led GE through the 2008 financial crises.
I shared the following blog post with GE employees. It’s about the lessons I learned as CEO of the company. Tomorrow, I will pass the baton over to John Flannery, who I know is the right person to lead GE into the future.
Today is my last day as CEO of GE. Tomorrow, John Flannery takes charge of the world’s premier digital industrial company. I’ve known John for 20 years. He is a thoughtful, disciplined and inspiring leader. Our teams and customers respect his judgment and his global focus. He is the right person to lead GE into the future.
As I transition, I will be working closely with John and key stakeholders. However, this is my last blog to you. I thought I would offer some of the lessons I learned while leading GE. Leadership is a “one-act play,” and I’m sure John will do the job his own way. On the other hand, learning is a part of the DNA for all good leaders. I never stopped learning, and I know John will keep growing.
1. Set purpose with high standards. You must always conceptualize the future; have a point of view. Set a high bar and hold people accountable. Be willing to fight in the alley to preserve reputation. “Be on watch” every minute of every day. Be respectful and motivating; be a competitor. Always focus on the important stuff.
2. Make the really tough decisions. These are the ones that no one really wants to do: cut the dividend, sell NBCU, buy Alstom. As CEO you must not fear judgment or criticism. Remember, every job or decision looks easy until you are the one on the line. And, always take the high road. I learned (the hard way) that you can’t control events; you can control yourself. But good leaders choose to take the high road.
3. The future comes. Never apologize for investing in it. The long term is about more than a series of short terms. It is about ideas. The Industrial Internet and Additive Manufacturing will define GE in the future. Don’t give up. Our best GE businesses have had a “True North” to build the future. Sometimes our owners have a different time horizon or value metrics more than the process. Good business people value the journey as well.
4. Keep perception and reality in sync. This is not about candor; that is the easy part. Facts without context isn’t truth. Sometimes people want to “unload everything on their mind” and call it candor. They feel better, everyone else feels worse. Always be transparent, but bring solutions. Remember that facts are a path to progress, not a way to pass judgment. Truth telling requires facts and context.
5. Act big and small, long and short; keep a lot of thoughts to yourself. The best leaders are versatile thinkers. Must be comfortable with strategy and details. Must have a world view that is 10-20 years out; and quarterly. Leave a few things “unsaid,” so that others can have the last word.
6. Deputize others. Trust your team. We move fastest when teams are purposeful and empowered. Our winning initiatives … global, digital, Ecomagination … all had strong teams that could move quickly and leverage our scale. Organization power should be distributed.
7. We win in markets, not conference rooms. It is easy to get trapped inside the company. I truly believe that customers determine our success. Surround yourself with “scouts” who will negotiate for the future. You must listen to them. Be willing to experiment and fail. But winning requires doing and not talking. GE has a record high backlog and market share that will pay off over time. Leading in markets must be existential, like oxygen.
8. Like the work more than the title. I worked for you and the investors. Every day away from the central task … at conferences, external councils, etc. … is a day off of mission. I never cared that much about being a CEO, but I loved the multitude of tasks that a CEO did. No job was ever beneath me. At GE, purpose and commitment matter.
9. Never give up. Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the nose.” I know we can get better. Leadership is a deep journey into yourself. How fast can you learn? How much can you change? What do you want to give? What will you put up with?
10. Lead in the moment. Give fully of yourself… always appreciate work, workers and jobs. Every minute I was with the GE team … they were the most important thing in the world to me. I have never met someone more dedicated to what they do than an engineer who works on an aircraft engine or a piece of healthcare equipment. You must build personal relationships. Top performers — in any field — want do work that matters, and they want to be part of something bigger. Leading GE requires an ability to focus on each person, helping them do their best work together.
GE today is a global infrastructure powerhouse. We have re-imagined our strategy and culture, building a deep, focused portfolio with leadership in the world’s most important industries. We are also who we’ve always been: a company of dedicated, driven people with a deep sense of mission. We are a meritocracy with the highest standards. We stand up for our global teams and customers and embrace diversity in all forms.
We’ve come to this historic company for many reasons. Mainly, we’ve joined GE to do something more, to be a part of something bigger, and to make a difference for the world we serve. Today — and tomorrow — that work continues.