What if Jack Welch intended Good? What if Jack Welch was not the last CEO to Get it Wrong?
Note: This is a post where I am sort of just thinking out loud…
A thought about a pretty big issue – who is to blame?
There seems to be pretty big agreement that: America sent so much work overseas (offshoring) that we lost our manufacturing base. And, as we did so, we laid off so, so many workers. And that is one of the catalysts behind the devastating opioid epidemic. And now, we are dependent on other countries for so much of what we need and what we buy, including practically all the computer chips that are absolutely essential in our modern world. And so now we talk about, and make plans to, bring manufacturing back to the U.S. Especially, manufacturing computer chips…
I think there is widespread agreement on all of this.
I thought of this last night, as I presented my review/synopsis of the book The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America – and How to Undo His Legacy. (I use the word “review,” because this presentation was for a book review club, so I adapted my normal straight-synopsis approach).
There is no doubt that decisions made and actions taken by Jack Welch were harmful. But, as I thought through some questions, it hit me that maybe some of his decisions seemed logical, and acceptable, at the time. I’ve read his book Winning. I read his argument about why differentiation, which resulted in laying off the bottom 10% of the workers every year, was not cruel, but was actually the right way to treat workers. I disagree with his thinking about that; but I at least understand it.
But, maybe, Jack Welch was not intentionally trying to cause harm. Maybe his decisions about offshoring, and mergers and acquisitions, and the ultimate downsizing of the actual manufacturing base in the U.S., were all motivated by good intentions. But now, looking back, we see the danger and the lasting ripple effects.
Here is one thing I know for sure. Jack Welch will not be the last business leader to make decisions and take actions that seem right at the time, but ultimately turn out to be not so right; even…dangerous.
The issue is how to think about those ripple effects well enough and thoroughly enough, in the here and now, that we can head off such bad decisions and harmful actions.
Quite a challenge…
One footnote: Of course, there are some leaders who are simply evil; not motivated by good intentions. That brings a different set of issues… I am reluctant to be the one to make that judgement on specific leaders. In such cases, ignore this blog post, and just label them as evil!
For further reading:
My blog post on the book The Man Who Broke Capitalism: The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America, and How to Undo His Legacy by David Gelles – Here are my five lessons and takeaways
And also, check out my blog post on the excellent book Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before they Happen by Dan Heath: Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath – Here are my 7 lessons and takeaways