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Complexity leadership: the secret of Jack Welch's success


  • Bill McKelvey


Leadership theory still focuses on vision and charisma and is stuck at the bottom of hierarchies. What style of leadership did Jack Welch actually use to manage the 350 business units comprising GE to increase its stock value 1,000s of percentage points higher than the Dow Jones Stock Index, stay in office for 20 years when most CEOs are 'temp workers', and produce some $480 billion in shareholder wealth. Welch is an instinctively great manager, but not well clued in on the action-specifics of why he did so well. Complexity science offers 12 'action-disciplines' that appear to be the means by which Welch was able to enable and steer GE to produce incredible wealth. He put complexity theory into practice. Put more dramatically, Welch replaced old-style, top-down 'management by objectives' with 'management by tension'. Evidence is offered to show that Welch's methods were not learned by all the GE-trained managers who became CEOs of other firms. But some outstanding CEOs of major firms appear to be using the complexity action-disciplines as well. This article explains the secret of his success.

Suggested Citation

  • Bill McKelvey, 2010. "Complexity leadership: the secret of Jack Welch's success," International Journal of Complexity in Leadership and Management, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 1(1), pages 4-36.
  • Handle: RePEc:ids:ijclma:v:1:y:2010:i:1:p:4-36

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