Leadership lessons for a rapidly changing world

In the ongoing COVID crisis, which leaders you should follow for guidance ? Jeff Immelt is one of those leaders who steered GE through 9/11 terrorist attacks and 16 years after that.

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson

The book Hot Seat: Hard-won Lessons in Challenging Times is primarily about the sixteen years Jeff Immelt was the CEO of GE. He was chosen by the most famous CEO in American history – Jack Welch.

“The best leaders absorb fear. I am not talking about soothing people by blowing smoke or giving false assurances. I’m talking about giving people the truth but also giving them a way forward.”

The book has number of such valuable things that the author says about leadership, decision making or handling crisis. Especially during the COVID-19 crisis, these learnings can be beneficial to current leaders. Sometimes Jack Welch is mentioned and what Jeff Immelt learned from him, for example, how leaders communicate within their companies and with external stakeholders.

The book is neatly divided into 12 parts or lessons – Leaders show up, Leaders learn every day, Leaders invest in growth and so on. One of the most criticised part of Jeff Immelt’s tenure was Alstom acquisition and his views on what happened are mentioned towards the end of the book.

“Power Market was an intense confluence of technology, economics, and public policy. Governments’ use of subsidies and regulation also have an outsized role.”

This is the best definition of power markets I have read so far. So GE Power overestimated the market, and earnings, like everyone else. They acquired Alstom at a time when GE predicted natural gas consumption to grow at least 5 per cent annually for decades. Same time they also believed that the only renewable equipment market with profit potential was wind. Now we may laugh at such figures, but at that time everyone was more or less of the same view.

This book is also about GE Power’s head at that time – Steve Bolze. A lot about power politics, board room negotiations, investor pressures and Leadership succession is mentioned. Steve Bolze can easily be called the villain of this book. Activist Investors come close second.

It can take more than ten years to develop many lifesaving drugs. A gas turbine, once installed, lasts for thirty years. A stock is held for less than six months in a mutual fund. The average CEO tenure is now about five years. There is a mismatch in the time horizon..

Towards the end of the book, the author mentions the role of luck in success. I would also end this review with this quote. Book is a wonderful read for all leaders grappling with change, be it in their industries, or due to COVID.

It is easy to talk about controlling your destiny when you have the benefit of a tailwind. Think about the current COVID crisis… If someone impresses you when they are benefiting from good markets, you still don’t know much. When they thrive in a shit show, you have a gem”