Leadership Style 2022: Jack Welch or Satya Nadella?

Which leadership style to adopt in 2022 with the Great Resignation ?

One of our all time popular posts is about Jack Welch’s leadership style.

The Jack Welch ( legendary CEO of GE ) style is what most Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964) grew up with. Organizations exist because stuff needs to be “done” by teams of people. If you as a team member can’t deliver – you are out was the mantra. If you hold a job, you should know the outcomes expected in your job. Your manager may not communicate along the way. Or you may be hesitant to ask for help to achieve your expected outcomes.

Gen X( Born 1965-1980) was willing to go along with the Baby Boomer/Jack Welch leadership style. Gen Y or Millennials ( Born 1981 to 1996) and Gen Z or Zoomers (Born 1997 – 2012) are very different. Since the pandemic and the Great Resignation , we thought it was timely to rethink the Jack Welch style as discussed in our very popular posts on Jack Welch. Between the generations the economy has shifted from industrial to service and now the knowledge economy. Also family wealth has increased so Baby Boomers and Gen X are happy to support their adult children as needed. All this has resulted in dramatic shifts and here are three illustrations:

  1. Gen Y and Z don’t obsess as much about ownership and are happy to pay for use. These include houses (Rent, Airbnb) cars (Uber). Freed from the tyranny of fixed loan payments and more assured of parental support they feel less trapped in organizations that they do not like.
  2. Also Gen Y and Z are happy to change their jobs and locations easily as the pandemic has shown. The carrot and stick approach does not seem to work as well as it did in earlier times.
  3. Younger people worldwide are far kinder to each other. And they are more accepting of people different than themselves. They are far more open to diversity.

When Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he made the reading of “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall B. Rosenberg compulsory for the top management. Nadella’s predecessor at Microsoft ,Steve Balmer followed a version of the Jack Welch approach without the candor that Jack promoted at GE.

We got hold of “Nonviolent Communication” (Note: we get no commission for offering this Amazon link to our dear readers) and were amazed at the way candor was really executed. In the Jack Welch era, you called a spade a spade. Candor meant that you tell your people on their face that their work “sucks”. Even back then, you didn’t make friends. Legend has it that in the old GE days managers had to list their bottom 10% people and HR would find that several colleagues (now deceased) were listed in the bottom 10% . Just so that the manager could avoid firing current colleagues! The dilemma was that if you avoid offering feedback to team members things don’t improve and the whole organization suffers.

Nadella’s approach with Nonviolent Communication turned out to be a game changer for Microsoft. From morale to financial performance and stock price – everything has been only improving.

Incidentally, the Satya Nadella approach also hits the spot in a multi-generational workspace. Nonviolent Communication resonates with Gen Y and Z .

Here is a brief application of Rosenberg’s suggestions for our dear readers in their roles at any organization. Our sense is that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers become happier and this is a great path to have Millenials and Gen Z’s buy in to your organizational mission.

Scenario: You as the leader of Sales have a team member who has missed the last important project deadline. For this scenario assume that the sales team member (cross reporting to finance) was working on costing sheets for an important Request for Proposal (RFP). Some predicted prices were expected to reach the costing person from Supply Chain folks who were supposed to get predicted prices from certain suppliers. With COVID, Supply Chain issues, inflation there were a lot of moving parts to predict for the costing person. You now have a one on one Zoom meeting next week to discuss the next costing for the next response to a new RFP

Nonviolent communication suggests the following approach for your meeting with the team member.The foundational principle is to build a human connection with the other person that involves a common humanity and bonds of trust and cooperation. You are neither trying to provide a carrot (incentive) or a stick (threat).:

  1. Observation :You start with observing the facts of the situation. Since the primary agenda of the meeting is for costing out a new RFP a good way is to start by saying ” we have a new RFP coming up for -day-month. I noticed that your last costing sheets were delayed.” You team member is likely give you several reasons for the delay. It’s good to listen and understand carefully. Here it is important not to judge. For example, if you hear that “Supply Chain folks did not give me the predicted price” do not say ” You should have told me” or “Did you call them”. Hold on!
  2. State how you feel: . “I felt let down because we had to use this data for a time sensitive RFP”. Follow this how you feel statement to the next step.
  3. State your needs explicitly:” Can we figure out a way to get the next costing sheets in on time?” Here you are showing that you rely on the person and that is a great feeling for a team member.Sometimes we are not clear ourselves and at other times we think it would be impolite to clearly ask for what we need. Clearly asking means talking in a polite and friendly tone (or email). Rosenberg provides great examples of parents yelling at their children instead of calmly asking the child to address what the parent needs.
  4. Actionable item: Following from your needs you must specify a doable action item. Here it’s important to convert your need to an actionable item. Once you specify the action the recipient of your nonviolent communication has a chance of considering doing it. You should be willing to hear a “no” to your specific action item without getting upset.In this particular scenario under costing will not hurt your response to RFP’ success but over costing might. However, there will be profitability questions if you get the contract with severe under-costing. Can you add a clause to index your quote to a public index like the consumer price index? Note some data crunching is needed here. In any case what you need is the costing that is as realistic (within a range) by a certain date. You still can figure out your final quote based on the market, client’s budget etc. You want your meeting to end with “winning the heart” of your costing colleague. Performance will follow.

Consider any difficult work email you send today. Try the above steps as you compose that email. Our guess is that you will be pleased with the outcome.

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