Episode #292 – Beth Comstock: You Don’t Need Permission (Former GE Vice Chair)

Until December 2017, Beth Comstock spent nearly three decades at GE. As Chief Marketing Officer and then Vice Chair of Innovation, she led efforts to accelerate new growth, develop digital and clean-energy futures, seed new businesses and enhance brand value.  As President of Integrated Media at NBC Universal, she oversaw TV ad revenue and digital media efforts, including the early development of Hulu. Prior to this, she held roles at NBC, CBS and CNN/Turner Broadcasting.

Her first book, Imagine it Forward, was a best-seller. She is a director at Nike, and trustee of The National Geographic Society.

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“You must grab agency.  You don’t always need permission.”

Show Notes:

  • Commonalities of sustaining excellence:
    • “They don’t stop. They keep coming back.  There is an inherent belief that tomorrow is another day.  They have great stamina.”
    • Examples: Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mary Barra (GM)
  • What was it like being hired by Jack Welch (including the story of Jack offering her the big promotion)
  • “You know you can’t say no to Jack Welch and GE.  It fascinated me.”
  • Jeff Immelt — “He lives to deliver for the customer”
  • Take us back to 1985… Beth is in her mid-20’s, she’s hiding behind the door as her husband tells her mom that they are getting a divorce.
    • “It was a defining moment.  I was willfully choosing an unfamiliar path.  It felt like a failure.”
    • “In times of change, you have a choice to figure it out.”
  • JR, the bad boss… We’ve all had bad bosses.  How to deal with it? “He was a gatekeeper, just said no.  So, I wrote a report, shared it with others, gave it to him.  He rejected all of it.  So I left to go to Ted Turner’s CNN.”
    • “You must grab agency.  You don’t always need permission.”
  • “No means ‘not yet'”
  • The difference between gatekeepers and goalkeepers:
    • Goalkeepers clear the way, they help you.  Gatekeepers do the opposite.”
  • Common mistakes the new manager makes and how to avoid them:
    • Understand the responsibility
    • Find a way to be secure in yourself.  A lot of mistakes are made out of insecurity.
    • “I was not good at giving feedback.  Good or bad.  I didn’t communicate well initially.”
    • “You need to get to know your team very well.  Know them as individuals.  Connect with them.  People don’t want to be managed or controlled, they want to be led. There is a difference.”
    • Mentors: “I was a 30 year old first time manager and I didn’t have good mentors.  I was afraid to reach out to people for help.  Find a series of people to be your board of advisors.  You will need it.”
  • The “Steve Jobs recruited me” story — “This was right before the iPhone came out.  He said, ‘We’re going to do some really big things here and I want you to be part of it.’  It wasn’t right for my family to move out there at that time though.  I made the pro and con list and the move was too powerful.  So I said no.  There are days where I regret it.”
  • The difference between Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt:
    • “Both were good leaders.  Jeff championed people and fully supported me.”
    • “They led in different times.  It’s a shame that they get compared when they led in two completely different eras.”
  • “Tell me something I don’t want to hear.” — Why this is a powerful exercise all leaders need to do with their teams on a regular basis.
    • “Success theater” was an initiative.  It’s meant to crack bureaucracy.  “Jeff Immelt was actually trying to make it better through doing this.  You need that feedback loop.”
  • Hiring:  What does Beth look for in a candidate?
    • Curiosity – Open and eager to learn
    • A quest for excellence – Do they actively strive to be better?
    • Others provide references on their behalf
    • Trial run – “Try, then buy.”  Simulate the role
    • Hire someone who knows what you don’t – Hire for your weaknesses
  • How to handle an environment as a woman leader surrounded by men?
    • “I’m a creative woman.  I came to appreciate my differences.  I became this small, quiet, rebel. Forge a different path.  Learn how to get comfortable doing this.”
    • Advice to men? “I’m so glad you’re asking this.  Be open.  Listen.  Talk with females at work. Have open dialog.  Ask questions how you can do better.”
    • “Assume nobel intent.”
  • How to “imagine it forward?”
    • “Data is squeezing imagination from us.” — “Open yourself to new people and ideas.”
    • “Pattern recognition”
    • “Scenario planning”
    • Think “What if I were the customer? What if I were the competitor?  What would I do?”
  • Leading as an introvert.  Most great introvert leaders have these useful qualities:
    • Introspective
    • Good listener
    • Understand how to manage their energy
      • Find time to recharge
  • Why joining The Learning Leader Circle is a good idea
  • Use the “Get To Know You Document

“I’m a creative woman.  I came to appreciate my differences.  I became this small, quiet, rebel. Forge a different path.  Learn how to get comfortable doing this.”

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