Coach's Casebook

Book Review: 29 Leadership Secrets by Jack Welsh

Book Review: 29 Leadership Secrets by Jack Welsh

Book Review: 29 Leadership Secrets by Jack Welsh



As the head of General Electric, Jack Welsh was recognised internationally as a word class leader. In 29 Leadership Secrets he presents his view of the key factors for leadership.



Leadership Secret 1 – Harness the Power of Change

Change is the one constant and successful business leaders must be able to read the every changing business environment.

Your employees also need to recognise that change never stops. They need to understand that change is an opportunity rather than a threat.

Be ready to rewrite your agenda. Change requires that you frequently revisit your plans and make changes as necessary.

Leadership Secret 2 – Face Reality!

Business leaders that hide from reality and see what they want to see rather than find out what they need to know will fail.

Act on reality quickly! Adapt to the changes in reality and so it quickly so that any detrimental effects can be minimised.

Turn the business around. This means not sticking your head in the sand but facing the music and engaging with the team to make the change.

Leadership Secret 3 – Managing Less is Managing Better

Manage less. Show your managers how to manage less despite their despite to control.

Instill confidence by encouraging your team and supporting their efforts.

Get out of the way. Let them do their jobs and let them surprise you at the results.

Emphasize the vision not the supervision. Employees do not need constant supervision.

Managing less lets managers think big thoughts and innovate.

Leadership Secret 4 – Create a Vision then Get Out of the Way

Business isn’t complex – Complexity and complications arise when people are not given the necessary information to perform.

Keep the following questions in mind:

  • What does the global competitive market look like?
  • What have your competitors done in the last 3 years?
  • What have you done in the same 3 years?
  • How might they attack you in the future
  • How can you leapfrog them?


Managing is allocating resources – Right people, right job, right support, right priorities. Give the team what they need and get out of the way

Lead with vision – others will act to force through the vision if it is compelling enough

Leadership Secret 5 – Don’t Pursue a Central Idea; Instead, Set Only a Few Clear General Goals as Business Strategies

Set out a general framework for your team. Avoid too much detail.

Create values that are consistent with the vision.

Values should reflect the vision, culture and goals of the organisation.

Core values should be constant.

Strategies will need to change to meet changes in the competitive environment.

Leadership Secret 6 – Nurture Employees Who Share the Company’s Values

Give employees more responsibility and they will make better decisions.

Making employees accountable, you make the organisation more productive.

Nurture employees who live the company values, even if they don’t make the numbers.

Eliminate employees who do not live the company values even if their numbers are good.

Difficult but absolutely necessary.


 Leadership Secret 7 – Keep Watching for Ways to Create Opportunities and to Become More Competitive

Don’t stick your head in the sand. Keep a close tab on the key variables that create opportunities and challenges for your business.

See things for what they are. Allocate resources to the market leaders. Fix those areas that you can and jettison those that are no longer competitive.

Begin with the vision. Nothing changes without a clear vision of where change will lead.

The boldest vision may also be the best vision for the organisation.

Leadership Secret 8 – Be Number One or Number Two and Keep Redefining Your Market

Develop a market-leading business. Number 1 and number 2 businesses can withstand the downturn.

Define markets broadly. Too narrow and you will shut yourself out of growing markets.

Leadership Secret 9 – Downsize, Before It’s Too Late

Even in the good times, regularly review expenses and headcounts. Don’t assume that because all things are well that they will remain that way.

Don’t lead by the polls. It may not be popular but act for the benefit of the organisation.

Remember that tough actions today may prevent far more complex problems later.

Leadership Secret 10 – Use Acquisitions to Make the Quantum Leap!

Go for the quantum leap even if it goes against the company culture.

Think outside the box to find innovative and audacious opportunities.

Keep hunting for little opportunities. Bolder moves need to be part of the larger strategy.

Leadership Secret 11 – Learning Culture 1:

Use Boundarylessness and Empowerment to Nurture a Learning Culture

Emphasize idea sharing. Knowledge is the fuel of an information economy, ensure that it is reaching each part of the organisation.

Find and implement the best ideas no matter where they come from.

Act on ideas or else they are impotent in the organisation.

Leadership Secret 12 – Learning Culture 2: Inculcate the Best Ideas into the Business, No Matter Where They Come From

Make searching for new ideas a priority for everyone. Innovation is everyone’s responsibility.

Hold idea sharing meetings and make sure they are put into action.

Reward employees for sharing knowledge.

Leadership Secret 13 – The Big Winners in the Twenty-first Century Will Be Global

Get your house in order first. Domestic operations need to be a solid base before venturing abroad.

Think globally and locally. Have a distinct strategy to move into other markets.

Recognise that there are phases in globalisation. Export comes first, then local production then local production.



Leadership Secret 14 – De-Layer: Get Rid of the Fat!

Get rid of any layers of management that do not add real value to the process.

Ask: How can I improve communications with the lower layers and remove those in the middle.

Don’t let emotions get in the way. Cutting executive jobs can be one of the most difficult decisions a manager has to make. Be objective.

Leadership Secret 15 – Spark Productivity Through the ‘S’ Secrets (Speed, Simplicity and Self-Confidence)

Promote the 3 ‘S’s

  • Speed.
  • Simplicity.
  • Self-confidence.

Start with a simple message. The most effective communications are the most simple.

Inspire people with a clear vision and fire up their passion.

Establish systems that foster self-confidence. Help people to understand how their efforts are helping the company to succeed.

Find ways to let people take risks and win.

Leadership Secret 16 –Act Like A Small Company

Assume that large companies can act small.

Structure for smallness. Remove layers that do not add value.

Check reality. Do you know your customers and what they want? This is the first stage of adding value and with value comes profit.

Leadership Secret 17 – Remove the Boundaries

Removing the barriers help because it:

  • Removes barriers between functions
  • Removes barriers between levels
  • Removes barriers between locations
  • Reaches out to important suppliers and makes them part of a single process

Root out the boundaries and anything that disrupts communications between departments and employees.

Model behaviours with the senior managers to demonstrate commitment and involve everybody.

Leadership Secret 18 – Unleash the Energy of Your Workers

Unleash productivity by involving everyone. Ensure that everyone knows how important it is to contribute to the overall effort.

Turn workers into owners with a significant stake in the company, figuratively and literally.

Have patience, attitudes don’t change overnight.

Leadership Secret 19 – Listen to the People Who Actually Do the Work

Enable people to speak out freely. Success requires people are free to speak without fear of penalty.

Employees should be in a position to make suggestions to their bosses face to face. Where possible they also should be able to get a reply on the spot.

Leadership Secret 20 – Go Before Your Workers and Answer All Their Questions

Search out practises that have stopped making sense. Every company has foolish habits that should be eliminated.

Nourish and treasure dignity in every person in the company.


 Leadership Secret 21 – Stretch: Exceed Your Goals as Often as You Can

Boundaryless people, excited by speed and inspired by Stretch dreams, have an absolutely infinite capacity to improve everything.

Each employee should be stretched to the maximum.

Set stretch targets and push to exceed them. If the goals aren’t met then as long as there is stretch, you are generating improvement.

Push for the impossible. Instil the desire to go beyond ordinary goals.

Leadership Secret 22 – Make Quality a Top Priority

Tackle quality head on – Attack it head on and make it the main effort.

Don’t let low quality standards necessitate endless rework.

Use quality to make sure your products are your customers only actual value choice.

Quality can just important as price, features, etc.

Leadership Secret 23 – Make Quality the Job of Every Employee

Think about quality universally. When implementing a 6 sigma quality programme, look at all products and processes.

Start with a quality cadre. A coalition of the willing to drive forward quality.

Link compensation to quality performance.

Leadership Secret 24 – Make Sure Everyone Understands How Six Sigma Works

Understand the components of 6 sigma quality. Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and

Control to achieve a new discipline in your company.

Nothing is more important than follow through. Ensure that quality does not fall off in the future.

Your customers know quality. Get feedback on the quality of your output.

Leadership Secret 25 – Make Sure the Customer Feels Quality

Customers must be brought into the process. Make sure that your customer feels the results of your quality programme as quickly as possible.

Don’t assume that the customer is as happy as you are. Monitor customer reaction to the initiative on a continuing basis.

Keep customer as the main focus. Make sure that your employees are aware that the point is to satisfy customers.

Leadership Secret 26 – Grow Your Service Business: It’s the Wave of the Future

Think about your services that might be directly applicable in other markets.

Stay flexible, much of what you do can transfer elsewhere.

Leadership Secret 27 – Take Advantage of E-Business Opportunities

Look before you leap into e-business. Being on the bleeding edge of technology can cause you some problems.

Look for opportunities to make money in cyberspace. Take advantage of the ‘Webs’ efficiencies.

Leadership Secret 28 – Make Existing Businesses Internet-Ready – Don’t Assume that New Business Models are the Answer

Don’t worry that your business model will not work on the internet, adapt it until it does.

Think Web enables rather than Web threatened. The goals should be to consider the internet as an additional channel. Use it to develop people inside the organisation and present a compelling proposition to the customer.

Leadership Secret 29 – Use E-Business to Put the Final Nail in Bureaucracy

Manage in Internet time using the latest technology. Use the web and intranets to communicate instantly.

Reinvent to operate at the speed of the web, day rather than weeks, weeks rather than years. This will fundamentally change your business.


Overall Welch has some interesting points to make and some good ideas to implement. Quality programmes are evergreen. De-layering can significantly improve communication. People thrive when stretched with support. Other elements of the book are a little dated, particularly the sections that relate to the internet.


If you are a fan of Neutron Jack then 29 Leadership Secrets will engage and entertain while giving you an insight into some of the events that define the progress of GE. If not, there is still value to be found between the pages but much can be seen as highly situational and requiring effort to align to other organisations.

Dare to Aspire

Skip to toolbar