These Growth Traits Matter
Jeff Immelt (GE Chief) evaluates all his management personnel on five “growth traits.” These traits are clear thinking/decisiveness, inclusiveness, expertise, imagination/courage, and external focus. You don’t have to have all five of them fully developed to move up the GE corporate ladder, but you have to have the potential for all five of them, and you have to be willing to not only work on all five, but to be intentionally surrounded by people who will force you to work on all five.
In a recent article in Fortune called “Life imitates TV” (Sellers, 2007), Jeff Zucker (CEO, NBC Universal) was observed to be light on external focus by Immelt. “To speed up Zucker’s training, Immelt has dispatched a SWAT team of GE executives to NBCU. Zucker’s EVP of Human resources, Marc Chini, ran HR for GE infrastructure. Ad boss Mike Pilot was CEO of GEs equipment finance division. Beth Comstock, who oversees integrated media plus sales and research, grew up at NBC then moved to GE headquarters, where Immelt appointed her chief marketing officer. And NBC’s new chairman? Immelt himself has taken that role” (pp 53-54).
Zucker is well known as one of the most competitive executives on the planet, and he holds a C-level position the envy of 99% of American business people. Yet he has been assigned an entire team of employees who are there to train him, and his boss has created a new role to be close to him. By all accounts he does not appear to be chastened by all this training he is receiving from his subordinates.
In an era when CEOs are (rightly or wrongly) widely perceived to be emblematic of corporate greed and malfeasance, and are in positions that shield them from having to deal on a regular basis with their own shortcomings (how many people actually give direct feedback to the boss?), this is an incredible story.
It’s not surprising that the story comes out of GE, which has made a science of developing executives. And it’s well known within the GE executive community that if you want to make it to a senior position there, you have to really work on developing yourself – work that obviously does not stop when you reach a C-level position.
The growth traits of clear thinking/decisiveness, inclusiveness, expertise, imagination/courage, and external focus scale to all sizes of business. I spend a lot of time in corporate environments, and I don’t see a lot of people working diligently on developing these growth traits. We aren’t all lucky enough to be pushed at by someone of the caliber of Immelt, or to be surrounded by the “staff” that surrounds Zucker – individuals who on their own could successfully run most American businesses better than their current executives can.
The development of these growth traits is a worthy pursuit for anyone in any size business. Finding information to develop them is not difficult, though finding mentors can be – and it takes mentors to help create the mental rigor and discipline to challenge one’s thinking and firmly establish productive behaviors. Competitiveness starts with the honed skills of the executives running the business. The good news is, discipline isn’t based on genetics. It’s anyone’s for the taking.
Sellers, P., (2007). Life imitates TV. Fortune, 155, 50-58.
(c) Andrea M. Hill, 2007