What Made jack welch JACK WELCH: How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Leaders
by Steven H. Baum with Dave Conti
Don’t pass on this one because you’re not familiar with Jack Welch or have no interest in him as a leader or businessman. The author has successfully utilized one of my five keys for choosing a book (Tips for Choosing a Great Book) … a catchy title.
You see, Jack Welch isn’t the focus of this book. The author was clever in his creation of his title. Note that the first use of the name jack welch is represented in lowercase letters while the second use of the same name is shown in UPPERCASE LETTERS. Add that nuance to the subtitle, How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Leaders, and you’ll understand what the author is trying to convey.
The author focuses on the fact that many great leaders start life as a lower case person but go on to enjoy the great success of an uppercase person. These leaders are smart and talented, but there are countless people even smarter and more talented in the marketplace. However, for one reason or another, these people stall out on their journey to the top. This book explains the inner workings of this phenomenon and how we can all benefit from it.
While the title suggests a focus on the famous General Electric CEO, the book actually draws on the experiences of many other leaders, including General Tommy Franks, as well as Jim Broadhead, the executive who turned around Florida Power & Light; David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue; New York mayor Rudy Giuliani; Shelly Lazarus and Cathleen Black and former Nebraska senator Bob Kerry.
Using an old Welch quote … apparently, it’s not rocket science. Anyone can be a leader. Really. That’s not to say the average Joe could manage billions in assets or command a workforce the size of GE or Walmart, but if you’ve got the right mixture of traits, all it takes is the experience and desire to reach that point.
Stephen Baum, a leadership coach who works behind the scenes guiding CEOs and senior management through times of challenge and change, reveals that true success is not about education, pedigree or even native smarts. Many of today’s greatest leaders are much like jack welch who started life as a lowercase guy. He was the son of a simple railroad conductor who become one of the most celebrated and successful executive leaders of our time.
Leadership boils down to some very simple ideas: character, confidence, critical thinking and the ability to engage other people, Baum said. It’s all about know-how and learning what works and what doesn’t.
Baum shares not only the business secrets of many prominent CEOs but also their inner stories as well. He reveals the real people behind the public personas we hear and read about every day. He shares many life-shaping experiences they all have in common and explains how these experiences become part of the foundation for true success in career and in life. We learn of their fears, emotions and lessons learned during moments of challenge and doubt.
The stories in this book, successes and failures, are of real people dealing with real situations. It was surprising to discover many common threads among these leaders that might never have been considered:
- They come from quite ordinary backgrounds.
- They were not necessarily the smartest kids in class.
- They weren’t necessarily destined to enter the corporate sphere.
- Few came from wealthy families.
- Few went to Ivy League schools.
- Few earned MBAs.
However, they do share a pattern of life-shaping experiences that caused them to develop exceptional personal growth which led to strong character and the confidence to seek challenges, take on risk, act when necessary, and engage and inspire others.
Baum constantly refers to the “school of experience” and how critical it is to the success of anyone who hopes to reach that level of success we all respect. Baum uses the term “shaping experiences” and offers a brief definition of each of the ten along with explanatory quotes from the leaders he interviewed for this book.
- Swim in the water over your head.
- Make the tough choices.
- Solve the key puzzle.
- Parent at work.
- Sell something/get others to buy in.
- Connect with others.
- Build a team.
- Get good on your feet.
- Develop your crap detector.
- Look in the mirror.
These character-building moments engender an inner core of toughness and confidence that is the real key to leadership in any business or endeavor—they are what made jack welch … JACK WELCH.
Note: Baum even brings the book to life with CEO videos and articles on his website (www.stephenhbaumleadership.com) and blog.
(This book review was originally published in 2009 as one of the Top 10 Books – Edition 19.)