Friday, August 24, 2007

Book Review: WHAT MADE jack welch JACK WELCH


How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Leaders

Author: Stephen H. Baum with Dave Conti

Publisher: Crown Business, 2007

Stephen H. Baum, an executive coach and leadership consultant, places less emphasis on how to be a leader than he does on how exceptional leaders acquired the traits that made them successful. It is an approach that serves him well throughout the book although there are times when the lines become blurred because of the natural mixture of being and doing. His book identifies the following key characteristics:

  • The appetite to take charge;

  • Character;

  • Confidence to seek challenge and embrace risk;

  • Capacity to act;

  • Ability to engage and inspire; and

  • Shaping experiences.

Baum interviewed and researched a series of leaders to glean his lessons and provides ample anecdotes about their challenges and victories. This strengthens his analysis but also goes against the title since a large portion of the book is focused on other leaders and not on Jack Welch.

[One feature of the book was a real pebble in the shoe: In any references to Welch's pre-greatness days, Baum spells Welch's name in lower-case letters (e.g. "jack's competitiveness and desire to win continued to be nurtured...") and then switches to all-caps when the great man has reached Olympus. I found that to be beyond irritating. Somewhere in this world there is an editor who deserves to be flogged.]

Although I would have preferred to learn more about jack's/JACK'S leadership, Baum's book provides enough juicy executive suite stories to make you forget The Great One. I particularly liked the emphasis on character that was a thread throughout the book and especially appreciated the fact that Baum's leaders don't magically transform anything. They adopt strategies that nudge, shape, and eventually improve; in short, they achieve the sort of results that we see in the real world.

The example of how Jim Broadhead, the CEO of Florida Power & Light, decided to deal with a resistant team and implement needed changes while fending off a potential shut-down of a nuclear power plant by the federal government could serve as a guidepost for any leader who has to grapple with outside regulations. The tips on obtaining the shaping experiences in learning to lead may be regarded by some as obvious (e.g., "Connecting with others") but if they are so obvious - and certainly items such as creating your personal board of directors are not - then why aren't more people doing them?

My advice is simple: If you want to get the most out of Stephen Baum's book, forget about jack welch/JACK WELCH/Jack Welch. Forget about gaining insightful lessons about leadership. Looking for those will only distract you from the book's real merits. Instead, regard the book as a series of guidelines from an extremely savvy coach who has some tips that will truly help your career.

That's where the real meat is.


pawnking said...

My concern with such books is this: Are negative examples considered? We are given items which made Jack Welch who he became, but what about people who went through those things and didn't become Jack Welch?

Michael Wade said...


Good point. The author does note situations where people had what could have been a valuable experience but didn't draw the lessons.