In my first job in the corporate world, I was on a graduate program with GE. It was a 2 year program, consisting of 4 “rotations” through different departments of GE. It was a brilliant way to learn about how a big business ran. To this day, I view those 2 years as building my foundation of skills for the corporate world.
When I first started, I was so eager to learn from those who had already “made it” at GE. So I set up a monthly learning session, where I’d invite members of the executive team to come and speak to all the graduates. The leaders would share their tips for a great career and their lessons learned.
On the day the CEO came to speak with us, we were all very excited.
Our CEO David shared his career progression and his views on what makes a good leader. He spoke about involving others in decisions vs empowering others to make the ultimate decision. I had a different view to David’s and told him so. Yes, I was disagreeing with the CEO! For the next 5 minutes or so we debated what makes a good leader. Here was I – a 20-something year old with no business experience – debating with a brilliant CEO about leadership!
I came out of the meeting and my graduate friends asked me what I was thinking disagreeing with the CEO. After all, David’s experience was extensive, mine was … not. I started to doubt myself. Should I have said what I was thinking?
A few hours later Ian, the HR Director, called me into his office.
Ian had obviously heard about what I’d said. I was so nervous as I sat down in his office, wondering what the outcome would be for me disagreeing with David. Ian told me that David has popped around to see him after his talk with the graduates. I held my breath.
Ian told me how David loved that I had my own opinion and was not afraid to share it. David asked Ian whether my next rotation could be working directly for him. A graduate reporting to the CEO! David was true to his word and I completed one of my rotations working directly for him. I learned so much working for him. It is still one of the highlights of my career.
What I realised was that great leaders don’t want a team of people who agree with them on everything.
They want people who challenge convention to get to a better outcome. Obviously it’s important to choose your words and be respectful when sharing a different point of view … but doing so can lead to better outcomes for your company and your career.
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