Strength and Sensitivity
I found it oddly reassuring reading Jeffery Immelts recent account of the mighty GE’s journey through major change and transformation. In the article he identifies key requirements for a leader’s role that are finely balanced between needing enormous strength and being highly sensitive and aware. He admits to the huge challenge of the complexity of change that requires an open and agile approach, matched with fierce determination and focus.
Whilst highly complicated in design and scale, change was ultimately delivered by having a clearly shared vision and being highly sensitive to its impact. Delivered in the spirit of discovery with emphasis on learning. The traditional leader role where having vision, conviction and discipline remain intact, but tempered by recognition of need to make space for uncertainty; thus building a framework that is able to capture emerging opportunities and address unexpected outcomes. It is of no use for leaders to simply predetermine targets and set expectations against a future aim unless space is made for reality to emerge.
This is no easy task. Immelt admits that driving through this level of change requires “personal fortitude” and anyone facing change will bear witness to this, whatever the scale we are working on. Change and uncertainty are uncomfortable, and so people easily revert back to type and aged old ways of working and thinking. Immelt advises that part of a leaders role is to be the ‘ ballast against stagnation’, making the leader’s role one of steering and sense-making, understanding what is really going on, being said and thought, so decisions made are viable and meaningful.
Change is not a static event. Change is part of life and we need to build a framework that manages and embraces this fact. As Immelt has shown, change is knowing what we want to achieve but being open about exactly how we achieve it – fixed about outcome, flexible about delivery “…be open to the reality that your organisation will have to pivot when it learns something new”.
Immelt seems to have put much effort into understanding, listening and asking questions. Whilst freely admitting to its challenges he was nonetheless adamant that GE needed to bring the local voice into their global business. However daunting, this is an easier goal thanks to huge techonological advances. Exactly how Immelt achieves this is, in some ways a moot point. What is important is the recognition of the power and importance of the ‘local’ voice and the need to engage it.
All through this transitional period Immelt’s quest to understand and direct is exemplary. In his position of authority (but as he bows out of his CEO position), he has used this as a platform to be frank and honest about the challenges he has faced, and the learning and insights he has required. We would all benefit from a leadership narrative that was able to speak so openly.
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