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GE’s most important production line

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

If you were to visit GE’s idyllic 59-acre New York campus known as Croton­­ville, you would find rising GE managers spending a week or two in leadership training.

This, as it turns out, could be GE’s most important production line: the one for leaders.

The company’s current CEO, Jeff Immelt, was taught in the campus’s main lecture theater by Jack Welch, who took a one-week marketing course there as a young manager in the 1960s.

Fifty years ago, when GE kicked off its training, the course content was underpinned by then-chairman Ralph Cordiner’s ideas about how to manage.

“It was a lot about telling,” says Peter Cavanaugh, operations manager at the center. “Now it’s more about reflection.”

It’s also about embracing the idea of never-ending growth as a leader. Rising managers are asked, as each course kicks off, “Are you using the same cellphone you used five years ago? No, because capabilities have changed and your expectations have changed—and that’s the same with leadership.”

Like its students, the leaders of Croton­ville’s training center are forever re-examining the way leadership development is taught, striving for a curriculum that keeps up with the changing global landscape.

To that end, the center has brought in thinkers, such as West Point colonels and Insead professors, to talk about the future of leadership. And 35 GE executives fanned out to gather views on how other groups develop leaders. They visited roughly 100 organizations, including the Boston Celtics.

They came away with several new “growth values” that they’ll use to shape rising GE executives—external focus, clear thinking, imagination and courage, inclusiveness, and expertise.

Lesson: Take a moment to reflect on your own “growth values.” Is it time to scrap an old view of leadership?

— Adapted from “GE’s bright sparks take the lead,” Andrew Hill, Financial Times.

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