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Fast Company Interview: Jeff Immelt

Fast Company Interview: Jeff Immelt [the broken link was removed], CEO, GE.

What makes a growth leader today, and how does that differ from the sort of leader who was effective at GE in the past?

GE has always been a believer in leadership development. When the economy was growing 5% a year, when oil was $14 a barrel, and when the world was at peace, the science of management was all about the how-to. That was the how-to generation. You didn’t have to think about the what. Instead, there were management initiatives such as Six Sigma, which was the how.

So most of management literature, certainly for the past 10 years, was all about the how-to. I think we’re now in the what-and-where generation. Global economies are slow and more volatile. Oil is at $50 a barrel. So this ability to pick markets, growth trends, customers, and to do segmentation — that is management today. We have a generation of people who know how to do process flow charts. We have a generation of people who know how to do quality function deployment and things like that, but don’t necessarily know why we’re doing them. What’s the what and the where? I believe that wholeheartedly. Nothing is completely black and white, but we are in a completely different cycle of what good managers know how to do.

I must say this doesn’t make much sense to me, but I am not the CEO of a huge company so maybe I just don’t understand. I don’t see any reason why managers in the past shouldn’t have had the qualities he seems to be saying are needed now. And I don’t see any reason why the qualities needed now were not needed in the past. This sure seems like a bunch of words saying nothing to me: perhaps I just don’t see the wonderful cloths the emperor has on.

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