Jeff Immelt – The Hotseat: Leading GE through controversy and crisis 

What does it take to face your critics?

I mean squarely, unflinchingly – with full self-responsibility. However, and this part is all important, still willing to defend yourself when it counts?

Responsibility is an interesting word. I always understood it to mean ‘the ability to respond’. Taking full ownership of the fact that, while you may not always be able to control WHAT happens – you are always able to control what you do next.

As a place to begin, I think it’s a good one.

However, what we don’t often talk about is moments where – the stakes are sky high, the information is ever changing – and there are only bad options on the table.

That, as my next guest would say, is leadership in the hot seat.

Now imagine you’re new to the reins of one of the world’s most respected brands, have woken up to a Global tragedy that implodes a huge proportion of your revenue, an out of control 24 hour news cycle, all eyes on you – and the legacy of the company now rests in your hands.

Today’s Guest 

 Jeff was the 9th Chairman of GE and served as CEO for 16 years. He has been named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” three times by Barron’s. During his tenure as CEO, GE was named “America’s Most Admired Company” by Fortune magazine and one of “The World’s Most Respected Companies” in polls by Barron’s and the Financial Times. He has received fifteen honorary degrees and numerous awards for business leadership and chaired the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness under the Obama administration. 

He is now also the author of ‘HOT SEAT’, a memoir on leadership in times of crisis. 

A book that grabbed my attention with one of it’s opening lines… “My legacy as the CEO of GE was at best ‘controversial”.

Now, if you take any time to read the press coverage of Jeff’s tenure as CEO of GE, having taken over the reins from the legendary Jack Welch in 2001. Along with accolades you might also read words like ‘tumultuous’, ‘misguided’ or at worst ‘a disaster’.

Yet, what you might not read, is that during those 16 years, GE generated more earnings and cash flow than the previous 110 years combined.

So how do you tell that story? Do you tell that story? Do you set the media record straight, re-insert some much needed context between the soundbites. 

Or do you let the narrative die out, then go on to pass the ‘invaluable’ lessons you learned from that hotseat, onto the next generation of leaders.

Jeff’s answer? YOU DO BOTH.


You’ll Learn

  • The heart-break of those moments where everything comes crashing down, and the hard leadership choices that come next.
  • Why choosing who you listen to is always the single most important decision you will ever make – in life and in leadership.
  • The three voices that every leader must master in order to effectively drive change.
  • Why the role of any leader during – and after – a crisis is to learn how to ‘absorb the fear’ of their teams. 
  • Finally – why it’s so much easier to talk about our successes than our failures, especially if there was no great hero’s triumph at the end. 

I believe we need to start having (and supporting) more conversations like this about leadership. 

Ones that celebrate failure as much as success. Ones that focus on context as much as news worthy content. Ones that celebrate the legacy of a leader as more than the sum of their wins and losses – but how they faced up to the challenges they were given.

That seat might not be scalding hot – but incredible people would be willing to sit on it.

References and links mentioned

  • My new ebook The Influencer Code
  • Jeff’s new book  ‘HOT SEAT’

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