Jack Welch on Flip-Flopping

Posted on by in Business, Change, Character, Entreprenuership, Leadership, Learning, Planning, Strategy

When did “flip-flopping” become a sign of weakness?

If you don’t regularly read Business Week, you ought to at least peruse the back page when you’re near a copy–if for no other reason than to read what Jack Welch has to say. Welch-jack-former-ceo-of-ge-02
This week’s edition (3/9/09) was one of those weeks that every leader should read.

In fact, I thought his subtitle, “Leaders are actually supposed to change their minds when the winds shift,” was perfect.

What set the stage for his comment was a discussion about President Obama’s decision to add 17,000 troops into Afghanistan, which is a guerrilla style war. Putting politics aside for a moment, Jack’s comment was that he hoped our President would reconsider his position. And then he brilliantly said,

“We hope, that he doesn’t fall prey to the dynamic that affects virtually every leader who has ever stood up to make a bold and defining strategy pronouncement, as he did with Afghanistan on the campaign trail: Call it fear of flip-flopping.”

Brilliantly stated. He then goes on to say

It is the essence of leadership to have the self-confidence to admit that a strategy has gone off-course or a position has become outdated. And it is the responsibility of all leaders in such a ”predicament“ to revise their direction swiftly, widely communicate it, and move on without undue pandering or emotionality.”

Absolutely! Leadership is not about perfection. It’s about making a bold choice, taking action, evaluating the results and then making mid-course corrections until the desired result or outcome is achieved.

Battle plan
In the military, the old adage is, “No plan survives first encounter with the enemy.” This doesn’t mean a leader shouldn’t plan because the power of planning is not in the plan itself, but in the thinking that has to be done in order to create the plan.

There is a time and place for sticking with a strategy, even when the short-term prospects aren’t looking favorable. But there’s also a time and a place for changing a strategy mid-course when it’s clear that the winds have shifted“ (to use Jack’s phraseology).

How do you know which to do? That’s what leadership is all about. And the only way to learn how to make the right call is to make the wrong call a couple of times.

Being ”pigheaded“ and determined are essential qualities of entrepreneurial leaders, like you and me. However, changing your position (”flip-flopping“) isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness. In many cases, it’s a sign of strength–and quite often, the right thing to do.

So as you look at the strategic decisions your business needs to make this year, which ones do you need to stick with? And which ones do you need to change direction on? Whatever you decide, make sure you base your decisions on the what’s really happening–and not on some fear of being labeled a flip-flopper. As Jack says,

Leaders are actually supposed to change their minds when the winds shift.”

To your accelerated success!

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