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22 Must-read Lessons from Late Jack Welch’s Bestseller ‘Winning’

Yesterday while dusting my bookshelf, an old friend tumbled out of the closet. I picked it up, dusted it off, and was immediately transported to the old times.

Jack Welch's Winning

Winning, written by deceased Jack Welch, is a business book, but at no point does it induce tedium in the reader. Even 17 years later, it amazed me with its timelessness. Yesterday when I glanced through a few highlighted portions and scribbles, I felt like I should have met this friend of mine more often.

There were lessons and insights that I thought I should have inculcated more deeply in my professional life.

So, I am taking this opportunity to share some of the key lessons from Jack Welch’s Winning. I hope the following 22 lessons serve as a mini-ready-reckoner so that when you need business insights, you don’t have to wait for a book to tumble out of the bookshelf.

#1. Never let yourself be the victim. For goodness’ sake – have fun.

#2. We are socialized from childhood to soften bad news or to make nice about awkward subjects. The more formal and bureaucratic your organization, the more your candor will scare and upset people.

#3. Change the meetings from self-congratulatory parades into stimulating working sessions.

#4. Differentiation is unfair because it is always corrupted by company politics. The 20-70-10 is just a way of separating the people who kiss the boss’s rear from those who don’t. The top 20% are boss’s head-nodders, and the middle 70% are ducklings who are just getting by. The bottom 10% are the outspoken types who ask difficult questions and challenge the status quo. Differentiation pits people against one another and undermines teamwork. For the middle 70%, it is enormously demotivating who end up living in an awful kind of limbo.

#5. When you know where you stand, you can control your own destiny.

#6. Protecting underperformers always backfires. The worst thing, though, is how protecting people who don’t perform hurts the people themselves. Either you help them or you let them go with dignity.

#7. In business, energetic and extroverted people generally do better. An upbeat manager who goes through the day with a positive outlook somehow ends up running a team of upbeat people. A pessimistic sourpuss somehow ends up with an unhappy tribe of his own. That’s something you have to teach from a young age.

#8. Celebrate your wins. Some managers are always wary of throwing team parties. They work under the assumption that powers-that-be would not be happy. Others suspect if things get too happy at the office, people will stop working their tails off. Jack Welch emphasizes that moments of achievements should be recognized and celebrated. Period.

Celebrate your wins - Jack Welch in Winning

#9. Effective people know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information. Little is worse than a manager who can’t cut bait.

#10. When you hire someone, make sure you exaggerate the challenges of that position. Describe it on its worst day – hard, contentious, political, full of uncertainty. As you crank it up, see if the candidate keeps saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” and doesn’t hit you back with questions of his own, then, you could possibly be his sole hope of employment. This should put your guard up.

#11. When hiring, you have to make a trade-off. Do you hire someone to get a job done fast or do you hire him/her based on their potential for growth? Jack’s advice is to pick the second option.

#12. Incent people for their awesome performance. Plaques and public fanfare have their place, but without money they are useless. Even the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes come with cash rewards.

#13. Every time a piece of information travels through another person, it changes. Organizational layers do that, too.

#14. Don’t flinch at the first glimmer of a crisis. Get into a worst-case scenario mindset and start digging. Information you try to evade/shut down will eventually get out and as it travels, it will certainly morph, twist and darken.

#15. Companies have a habit of sending expendable bodies to run new ventures. It’s nuts. For a new business to succeed, have the best people in charge, not the most available.

#16. It is said that you can only live life forward and understand it backward. The exact same thing is true about careers.

#17. If a job doesn’t excite you on some level, don’t settle. And don’t worry either about knowing when you find a job with meaning. You’ll feel it.

#18. When you run into a bad boss situation, don’t ever let yourself be a victim. Seeing yourself as a victim is completely self-defeating.

Work-life balance - Lessons from Jack Welch's Winning

#19. When you own your choices, you own their consequences.

#20. Work-life balance is a swap – a trade-off you’ve made with yourself about what you keep and what you give up. Even the most accommodating bosses believe that work-life balance is your problem to solve.

#21. If you want to get promoted, your best bet is to overdeliver on your results, manage your subordinates as carefully as you manage your boss, get on the radar screen by supporting major initiatives, and always have a high-energy approach to life and work.

#22. Winning is great because it inspires people to be happy, creative, and generous.

All in all, Jack Welch’s Winning addresses the thorny question of What does it take to win in business?. I hope the above lessons instill optimism and clarity in you. If you want more insightful ruminations, I highly suggest you read this book. Even after close to two decades, this Wall Street Journal bestseller remains a great investment.

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