The Recipe For Executive Success
Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric, embodies the know-how required by corporate executives to tackle tough leadership challenges. In What Made Jack Welch JACK WELCH: How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Leaders, executive coach Stephen H. Baum compiles stories and lessons from a variety of industries to describe what it takes to excel as a CEO in the 21st century. To make his point, Baum plays with the typography of the book title to convey the idea of going from ordinary to extraordinary. But don’t let the title fool you into thinking this book is an unauthorized biography of the man who turned GE into a global powerhouse. On the contrary, Baum’s book is only tangentially about Jack Welch; the author simply invokes Welch’s name (in all capital letters) as a synonym for CEO extraordinaire.
According to Baum, the archetypal shaping experiences that create great CEOs come in many forms. He categorizes most of them with the usual metaphors, including “swim in water over your head,” “solve the key puzzle” and “look in the mirror.” But Baum turns these timeworn clichés into worthwhile advice by expanding them with stories that he has gathered from his career.
By illustrating each of his lessons with the shaping experiences of celebrated leaders, such as Florida Power & Light CEO Jim Broadhead and Hearst Magazines CEO Cathy Black, the author turns stories about seminal events in their lives into a descriptive road map to the corner office.
The formative elements of leadership that Baum expands upon include: character, the confidence to take risks, the ability to take charge, the motivations that drive people to lead, the capacity to act when others won’t, the ability to connect and create followers, and the presence of mentors who drive leaders to excel. By elaborating upon each of these elements with true tales from successful CEOs, Baum helps readers see how these ideals work in the real world.
Bethune’s Legacy at Continental
An example of a leader who succeeded because of his ability to embrace one of Baum’s leadership traits is Gordon Bethune, the former chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines. Although he says he never saw himself as a person who would run a company from the top spot, Bethune was able to turn his years of experience as an executive at Boeing into many successful years as Continental’s CEO. Baum points out that Bethune had the “appetite” to do something to improve the company where he was COO and president, under the CEO. This appetite to lead is one of the traits shared by many great CEOs, Baum explains, including Jack Welch, Marriott’s Chuck O’Dell and Ogilvy & Mather’s Shelly Lazarus.
Although many of Baum’s lessons can be found elsewhere, one new twist that stands above the usual business advice is his description of “masks.” These are the “flawed leaders whose leadership core is not strong enough.” Baum explains that these leaders must seek out the shaping experiences that will help them become true leaders who are “capable of honest and lasting achievement.”
Why We Like This Book
Through Baum’s depictions of both skilled and failed leaders, readers get a clear sense of which CEOs are merely wearing the mask of the leader, and which CEOs can truly lead. His descriptions of both clever and disastrous business moves show leaders how to sharpen their performance and careers.