Jack Welch used to say that he would never fly in a plane with a jet engine that he built - a sensible enough statement considering that Welch was neither a mechanical engineer nor a physicist. Nevertheless, as CEO of General Electric, Welch led a company that manufactured jet engines, light bulbs, and medical equipment, and oversaw sundry other properties large and small, including NBC Universal. But how can one lead a team without any practical knowledge of how the end product is produced?
The one commonality across all of General Electric’s businesses is the value for general leadership skills. The company is so focused on leadership development that it built an entire campus in upstate New York devoted to training emerging leaders across all of GE’s businesses. It is not uncommon for a leader in the medical device division to be relocated to the aerospace division. It is as if product knowledge doesn’t matter at all among the management ranks.
What can we learn from GE? As small business owners, we strive to understand the development of everything that’s happening in our companies. But this is really an unattainable – and even undesirable – goal. Assuming you have built a skilled team, your emphasis as a leader should be on nurturing and improving the chemistry of your team.
At the end of the day, successful leadership comes down to (1) understanding what barriers and challenges your people are facing, and (2) identifying what pressures everyone is feeling. You don’t need a mastery of how people do what they do in order to lead them. Instead, you must grasp the team’s dynamic, and take action to keep the boat afloat and headed in the right direction.
***This article is based on research byScott Belsky and the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.