Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

GE:  A Reminder of the Leadership Killers!

In 2006 General Electric launched a four-day training program called Leadership, Innovation and Growth (LIG) at their famous management development center in Crotonville, New York.  In the next few years, thousands of GE managers were put through this program.  The core focus of this program was the importance of teams and consensus in accelerating the pace of change.

In 2007, the Harvard Business Review published an article summarizing the author’s experience when he attended this GE training.  Reading this article it’s clear how strongly GE was focusing consensus management and teams.  This is surprising given that such practices often lead to excess bureaucracy, slow decision making, and the rejection of unusual, innovative ideas.  It is also noteworthy to point out that GE’s stock price in 2006 was in the $37 range while today it is down to $16 per share.

Stepping back, I believe that what this GE example provides is a reminder of some of the most destructive leadership killers that exist in business.  Let me go into some detail on what I believe are the most destructive:

1.) Consensus Management – It is painful to be in an organization where the leader avoids making decisions until all relevant parties absolutely agree with what is about to be decided.  Significant improvement is all about change and creativity, and those things cause lots of folks to be threatened, so they don’t agree or they ask for modifications. The result is the status quo or meaningless, minor modifications.

2.) Teams – If you are in manufacturing and you are improving a process, teams work well; they bring together different kinds of expertise that are needed in order to solve the problem.  On the other hand, if you are trying to innovate or drive change, teams drag things out and compromises get made since the team leader is often trying to keep everyone happy, which is not possible when driving change.

3.) Committees or Task Forces – These groups are typically temporary in nature, and are formed by people contributing a small portion of their time while still doing their main job.  This usually causes superficial, obvious solutions or assessments to emerge, since individual members won’t be held responsible and people typically view such efforts as distractions.  Weak leaders often use them to make a problem go away for a while.  That way they don’t have to make a decision.

4.) Excess Layers – Having excess layers means excess bosses who are not very busy and hence, want to be part of any decision.  The higher levels are often out-of-touch, but need to act smart, and hence are dangerous when you are trying to drive significant change or innovation.  Too many layers also slow down decision-making.

The takeaway here is obvious: gutsy leaders avoid these practices and they avoid organizations where such approaches are used.  Strong leaders seek out information from the folks who have valuable input on a decision, asks such people for reactions to possible options, make modifications in their original plan, and then makes a decision.

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