Even the most fearless leaders have something in common with your average five-year-old.
When they make a mistake — whether it’s spilling juice on the carpet or releasing a product that’s a complete flop — their natural impulse is often to protect themselves by placing the blame elsewhere.
As in, “My sister did it!” Or, “My CFO should have predicted this!”
Yet, as any shamefaced youngster can tell you, that tactic rarely helps solve the problem. Instead, the best way to start recovering from a major mishap is simply to take responsibility for it — a strategy Jack Welch calls “owning your whack.”
Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, spoke about this technique at a Daily Mail Answers to Correspondents presentation on Wednesday, where he and his wife, former business journalist Suzy Welch, were interviewed by Daily Mail North America CEO Jon Steinberg.
He referred specifically to industrial distributor HD Supply, which bounced back from a serious “whack” in 2008 — an example he elaborates on further in his recently released book “The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team and Growing Your Career,” co-written with Suzy Welch.
In 2005, the company’s revenues were about $12 billion. But in 2008, the organization suffered some serious setbacks; it had been sold by Home Depot, so faced a heavy debt load while simultaneously getting hit by the real estate bust. Its revenues fell by 40%.
While it might have been easier for HDS CEO Joe DeAngelo to pretend the company wasn’t in danger, he instead took a proactive, realistic leadership approach with his staff.
“It takes a leader who’s got guts to own [the mistake],” Welch said.
Specifically, DeAngelo awarded small cash sums to employees who embodied the company’s core values, including integrity and innovation.
By publicly celebrating the recipients of the awards, DeAngelo did exactly what Welch advises company leaders do when they get whacked: “keep everyone informed” and “be transparent.”
When HD Supply was in trouble, Welch writes in the book, “there was no denial, and just as important, no blaming or victimhood-claiming.”
Ultimately, DeAngelo’s survival approach paid off. In 2014, the company had a successful public offering.
As for getting whacked in your personal career, Suzy Welch told the audience that similar principles apply.
“Don’t blame anyone but yourself,” she said.
Author: Shana Lebowitz
Shana Lebowitz is a Strategy reporter for Business Insider. Before joining BI in April 2015, she covered mental health for Greatist and personal finance for LearnVest. Shana studied English and psychology at Brandeis University and received her master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University.