A Proposal Manager is a Boss: What We Can Learn from the Outspoken Jack Welch

When surveyed, most Americans state that they do not like their bosses and do not enjoying talking with them. I am not aware of any surveys along these lines for proposal professionals, but the survey results cannot be too different.

There are many things all of us can do to become better bosses, and one important lesson may come from a surprising source – former General Electric Chairman and CEO Jack Welch.

I will begin by stating that there are many things that I do not like about Jack Welch. He has kooky political views. And under his leadership, GE shed many of its US-based jobs, outsourced them abroad, and moved away from developing and marketing products to focusing on financial services and increasing its influence by bribing national political figures with large campaign contributions. Companies like GE are part of the reason that smaller countries like Germany and Japan export more products than the United States.

Nonetheless, Welch also has a several surprisingly good suggestions about how to be a better boss that apply to proposal managers. The story comes from Beth Comstock, the Chief Management Officer at GE. One day she was talking to Welch and the line went dead. When she called his assistant, she was told that “Jack hung up on you. He wants you to know that what it’s like to be in a meeting with you. You’re too abrupt.”

Comstock laughed at the lesson and the message. Later, Welsh told her, “Take time to get to know people. Understand where they are coming from, what is important to them. Make sure they are with you.” Comstock realized that her abruptness had alienated her colleagues. What she learned from Welch is that sometimes “you have to go slow before you go fast.” In other words, you have to understand perspectives other than your own.

According to David Pock, who works with executives, this is very accurate. Too many people leave conversations and meetings with the most important things unsaid. In other words, they may be too abrupt.

Pock has a simple way to address this problem. Ask this question well before the end of a meeting or a conversation:

“Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you’re wondering about or think we’re leaving out?”

Then be silent and wait for responses.

According to Pock, it is up to bosses to ask simple questions that draw out what is yet to be said. And it is up to bosses to know when to go more slowly and less abruptly by asking the right questions.

Sometimes when you are interested in speed and efficiently, the best approach is to slow down and ask a simple question that may lead to valuable ideas or changes in the management of a proposal. Maybe Jack Welch is right – maybe too many of us are too abrupt.

Leave a Reply