This Is the Biggest Management Lesson Beth Comstock Learned From Jack Welch
What happens when Jack Welch—one of the best-known business leaders of the modern era—personally asks you to come work for him? “You can’t say no,” says Beth Comstock, General Electic’s vice chair of Business Innovations.
That was the advice that Comstock, then working at NBC, got from a mentor when Welch reached out to her in his final years at the industrial giant.
Speaking to digital editor Aaron Task on Fortune‘s new podcast, Fortune Unfiltered, Comstock reflects on her decision to leave the media world to join Welch at GE, calling it, “stepping into the unknown.”
While the move was a big transition, she says she learned a tremendous amount from working with Welch. The best part of the legendary CEO’s management style? “You always knew where you stood with him,” says Comstock. “I loved that about him.” Despite identifying as a natural introvert, she tells Task that she tries to channel that Welchian directness, focusing on keeping her leadership and team-building style as transparent and straightforward as possible. That meant getting over the ideas about “niceness” she learned while growing up in the South: “Being direct is actually being nice, if you will—it’s being fair.”
Still, Comstock notes that she hasn’t completely banished her introversion—and in fact, she says she found that that facet of her personality can be a strength. “Introverts are by and larger are good listeners,” she says. “We’re good observers.” That has helped her in her current role, where she’s tasked with bringing together disparate parts of the company to drive growth and innovation.
“I’m trying to be a student of asking good questions,” explains Comstock. That allows her to push back when she hears, “That’s not the way we do things.”
“That may not be the way we do it,” she says, “but what if? Let’s just give it a shot.”
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