A few years ago we added discussions about Jack Welch’s “four E’s of leadership” to our assessments of mid-level leaders. When I looked at the 4Es again recently I wondered how many of you had heard of them.

Jack Welch and the 4Es of Leadership. I was amazed recently when I asked my class of business graduate students if they knew who Jack Welch is and only 25% of the class raised their hands. It was another moment when I knew I was getting older.

He is the former President of General Electric (GE) who introduced the world to a number of management and leadership practices that continue to be used globally. He retired on September 10, 2001, which was quite a challenging day to start for the current GE president, Jeff Immelt.

One business practice that GE developed under Welch’s tenure was a very thorough leadership assessment. A component of that assessment that is easily transferred to other industries is the 4Es of leadership – energy, energize, edge, execution.

In our organization we ask these four questions about each manager or leader:

  1. What level of energy does the leader display?
  2. How well does the leader energize others on her/his team?
  3. Do they have the edge to deal effectively with conflict and make tough decisions?
  4. Does the leader execute strategies effectively and achieve their strategic plan?

Energy. When you think of energy who do you think of? Maybe Rachel Ray or Kelly Ripa? I think of President Teddy Roosevelt. When we assess energy at our company, we look for evidence of consistently high stamina, happiness, and enthusiasm for our mission. Assessing energy is definitely subjective, but when we have six or seven people doing the assessment, a pattern of consensus evolves.

Energize. This is how well the leader acts as a catalyst and moves their team into action towards achieving your mission. Steve Jobs is an excellent example of someone who energized his teams. As an avid Red Sox fan who still cherishes our first World Series championship in 2004, I think of Kevin Millar as the person on that team who energized his team mates. At our company, we examine how well leaders energize people, we look at how well their team members individually achieve their outcomes, how effectively they communicate, and ultimately, how well they retain quality team members. Most of these are measurable.

Edge. I think this word “edge” is simple and yet very important. We have all worked with and for leaders who don’t have it, but many do. Governor Chris Christie has it as does Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots. We assess “edge” at our company by looking at our leader’s ability to recognize problems, evaluate solutions, and make decisions. We also look at their ability to effectively manage conflict internally and externally. Finally, we note whether they can emotionally deal with the ups and downs of leading in today’s always changing world. Again, this is a subjective assessment based on the input of six or seven people.

Execution. In Jack Welch’s mind, and I believe anyone who ever worked for him would confirm this, execution is the most important “E”. This is how well you deliver results; deliver your plan. In sports it is players like Joe Montana and Tom Brady and their great coaches (Bill Wash and Bill Belichick, respectively.) We evaluate a leader’s ability to execute at our company by evaluating the quality of their team’s services and their financial results over a continuous period, not just one year. This assessment is very objective and leaders should always know where they stand.

So now if someone asks if you’ve ever heard of Jack Welch you can say, “yes.” More importantly, when you reflect on these 4Es of leadership, how would you rate yourself?

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