I read the book “Jacked Up” by Bill Lane recently. It’s not a new book, but I hadn’t heard of it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Bill Lane was part of the corporate communications team for General Electric for over 20 years, and was Jack Welch’s speechwriter for a big portion of that time. The book is full of great anecdotes that give insight into Jack Welch, the company, and the world of communications at a big company.
But what was really great about it for me was the lessons about communication and about leadership. Lane talks about the maniacal way Welch managed his own communications and the communications of others in the company. I know Welch has been described as maniacal about other things, so maybe it is just his general way. But I know there is only so much time in a day and energy to expend, so any leader, no matter how intense and passionate, has to pick their spots. What I saw in the book was that he was particularly focused on communication and on operations. And in both he believed in the importance of face-to-face interactions. This led him to focus on annual and quarterly leadership meetings, and on trips to see operations in person, all around the globe.
On the communications front, the key lessons about your own communications was to “own” it, spend significant time preparing for presentations and speeches, and be succinct and meaningful to the audience. He gives great stories of Welch giving his best speeches when it is a topic he is passionate about and has spent hours preparing for. And you should give the audience only the information and inspiration they need (“cut with a cleaver, not a scalpel”) – Lane says it well, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a presentation hurt by being made shorter – even radically shorter.” Then make sure they have something they can take back to their daily work and make an impact with, even if it’s just some questions they should be asking their team.
Thought the operations lessons were secondary, I thought it was fascinating that Welch made sure he knew the details of an issue or business that needed to be paid attention to; he didn’t just assume he was being told the right info, he went out and investigated for himself, he got “schooled” in the area and he came to his own conclusions, asking lots of questions. And he liked to hear things face-to-face, so business unit leaders flew in to present to him (and they better have paid attention to the communication lessons above), or he would fly out to hear from them (and they better have paid attention to the communication lessons above), or they would gather at a leadership meeting and share ideas (and you guessed it, they better have paid attention to the communication lessons above).
So we come back to communication as a lynchpin to success. It is emphasized over and over in the book that those who were advanced in GE were those that could communicate. I am going to be more focused on this issue with those around me at work, and I’m going to spend more time preparing for presentations – limiting the use of PowerPoint, finding ways to make communications more succinct and in my own voice, and giving the audience something they can take back with them.
If you want to get even deeper with these lessons, and get to enjoy a rollicking look through the Jack Welch tenure at GE, I highly recommend Bill Lane’s book “Jacked Up.”