Trust, Truth and the Beer Test: Reflections from an Hour with Jack Welch

Hal Bienstock  Follow

If there was such a thing as a Business Hall of Fame, former GE CEO Jack Welch would likely be a near-unanimous choice for enshrinement. With that being said, it was a privilege to join 300 communications executives earlier this month to hear him speak at the Arthur Page Society Spring Summit.

Between his books, his online MBA and his TV appearances, it's not like advice from Welch is hard to come by. However, being in the same room with him and experiencing his infectious enthusiasm first-hand is still something special.

One point Welch made that especially resonated with me as a communicator was him explaining his equation that leadership equals trust and truth. As Welch explained it, spin slows companies down. Once the truth is out - no matter how bad it may seem at the time—one can act, and then move on.

Welch also was insightful on corporate culture, explaining that before any decision is made or communicated, it should be viewed through the lens of "What's in it for the people in the organization?" If you can't answer that question, then you need to ask yourself why you're doing it.

In terms of hiring, Welch criticized the notion of the "star employee" and said he looks for, above all else, people he'd want to have a beer with. He said he never promoted those who griped, no matter how skilled they were.

I agree with his larger point, which is that cohesion is key to any successful team and that someone who can't get along with others can destroy an organization, no matter how good he or she might be at a particular job. However, the "would I have a beer with this person?" test can exacerbate the natural tendency of people to hire those are just like them. This can lead to groupthink and a dangerous lack of diversity. It's a fine line to walk.

Overall, what stuck out most about Welch was how much he loved the game. His interviewer and former employee Pam Wickham, now with Raytheon, said that before addressing the conference, Welch told her, "I'm excited about this; this is going to be fun!" It's a comment Wickham said she heard numerous times during their years together.

All of this made me wonder, was this the secret of his success? We spend so much of our lives at work, we might as well try to enjoy the people we work with and yes, have fun. End of Story

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