Education Posts

5 Leadership Lessons From A Retired 3-Star General In The U.S. Army – Lesson #3

5 Leadership Lessons From A Retired 3-Star General In The U.S. Army – Lesson #3

By General Robert Van Antwerp

9 years ago




If you would prefer to read this content instead of watching the video, the transcript is available below.


How do you bring the best, most groundbreaking ideas into your organization? More importantly, does your organization freely share what it already knows? What is the value of relating deeply with your leaders?

Hi there, education heroes! My name is General Robert VanAntwerp, a retired three-star general from the US Army. In this video, I’ll introduce you to another man who needs no introduction, former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch. I spent four weeks being mentored through GE’s exclusive leadership training school for senior executives, and that experience taught me two powerful leadership acronyms that I’ve used throughout my entire career.

So enjoy this talk, and I’ll be back with you in a few minutes.

This next guy probably needs no introduction, either. This is Jack Welch, the Chairman of General Electric. There was a chief of staff for the Army, Denny Reimer, who told me they had created a new job, and I went into this job. It was to be the installation manager for the Army. There are 150 installations in the Army and 90 in the Air Force, and we did all the construction on those installations. He put me as the head over this. He said, “Van, you’re about to run a big business. I want you to go work in business – establish a benchmark in business.” And he said, “I have this friend…up near West Point. In fact, he has a school. It’s called Crotonville on the Hudson. It’s the GE school.”

First of all, I was there with ten other leaders from General Electric. You know the names: Jeff Immelt…and the boys. Four of them were running for the chairmanship. I was the only one in the room that made less than ten million dollars that year, and I made a lot less! So, it was fantastic – four weeks.

First of all, an observation: in those four weeks, Jack Welch came in for one four-hour session each of those four weeks. How important was that? When his leaders gathered, he was there, and he was leading. They have a little place – they call it “the pit.” It’s like a little amphitheater, and you sit up there. So there were only ten of us, although it held about a hundred people, and he would be down in the pit. He’s a little short guy…about 5’8″, has a lisp, and is a scratch golfer…or was at that time.

So, one of the weeks I remember Jack coming in. Do you remember that old commercial where the leader said, “We just got fired today,” and he had airline tickets in his pocket? And he said to the others, “You’re going to go see this guy,” and he handed out airline tickets and started walking out the door. He had one in his pocket, and the others asked, “Where are you going?” and he replied, “I’m going to go see that friend that fired us today.”

So here is what Jack Welch did. He came in one day with airline tickets, and he laid them out on the table. They were in groups of three, so we divided the 11 of us (because I was kind of an outlier) into groups. He had the airline tickets right there, and he said, “Go pick up your ticket. You’re going to find the benchmark at one of these wonderful companies somewhere in the world.” So I went with two other people from GE, and we went to Volvo. I mean, he sent people all over the world.

Then we came back, and we had a session. There were two things that Jack Welch said: “This is what we’re doing. We’re going to go ‘steal’ ideas. We have a non-disclosure agreement with them, but we’re going to go ‘steal’ ideas and we’re going to share ideas…be open about it, SHARE. We have a lot of great things we do here. Share about the GE way, and they can take it or leave it, but SHARE.”

So, do you have acronyms in your schools? Do you think the Army has acronyms?! We would put out a regulation that’s one page, and it would have three pages of acronyms! So you knew what we were doing. I’ve come up with two acronyms, and I’m going to give them to you. These are from Jack Welch.

The first one is SIS – Steal Ideas Shamelessly. Steal it! Steal it and you’ll make it better. The next idea is this (this is harder to say; the SIS is easy to say): the SIW. That’s with a “W”, S-I-W, Share Ideas Willingly. You know, when I’m in a boardroom and there are ten people there and only five who talk, there are some people not sharing ideas willingly, who could be. Maybe you have high deference; I don’t know – but bring it! If you’re invited, bring it! We just had a customer summit/leadership summit with a number of you and you met Pat Wadors yesterday. We were all hanging around in there, and one of the big goals was to steal ideas and share ideas. It’s one of the great ways of getting better.

So, we stole ideas. We came back and stole about their quality movement…how would they deliver on time? What was their logistics system? We all got together, and we had some great lessons that we stole. So that’s my Jack Welch story.

Well, I hope you enjoyed learning how to ‘steal ideas shamelessly’ and ‘share ideas willingly’. What are a few of the best ideas you’ve stolen shamelessly? What are a few of the best ideas you’ve shared lately?

If you found this talk helpful, please do us a favor. Click the “Like” button to share with your friends, and also scroll down to the bottom of this post and let us know your thoughts.

So let’s continue the discussion below. We’d love to hear from you. Take care, and I’ll see you soon!

General Robert Van Antwerp

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