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My favourite Jack Welch story: When Jack Blew Up The Plant

One of the first things Jack Welch did as a 24-year-old manager of a GE plant was blow up the part of the plant he was responsible for.

The head of the plant called him to his office to explain.

Welch, assuming this was the end of his managerial career, duly explained that he was experimenting with a different mixture from the standard one and it had caused an explosion. The plant boss probed further, asking him why and what he had hoped to achieve.

Satisfied that Welch had

a) learnt a lesson from the experiment and

b) had practised sound thinking, just needed to adjust his risk analysis, the plant head protected Welch and he kept his job.

Welch says that act of leadership had a profound effect on him for the rest of his life. As head of GE, Welch championed experimentation, learning from mistakes and not blaming people if an attempt at something new went wrong…unless they repeated the same mistake more than once, that is.

Source for this story: My notes from a conversation between Jack Welch and the journalist Kirsty Wark. She had spotted the story in his book Jack, Straight From The Gut and so asked him about it. A secondary learning point: he tells that story to make it clear that leaders are not infallible and need to admit to their own mistakes – admit their own fallibility – if they are to create a culture in which others are honest and admit to mistakes, too. Otherwise you get the myth that the leader can’t be wrong and everyone covers up evidence to the contrary, and also never admit that they themselves are wrong.

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