‘Stretch’ Assignments and Embracing Change: Inside GE’s Capacity to Build Leaders
Earlier this year, GE signed a global first-of-its-kind digital aluminum smelter solution. You might have expected that the engineer leading the project was a seasoned, 40-year veteran; actually, it was a 30-something participant in GE’s most prestigious leadership development program.
So, you’re thinking, he must have had a long history in digital technologies, or at least aluminum smelting or industrial manufacturing? Actually, he’d never worked in either field.
But he had completed rotations through more than ten GE Power business sites and locations on three continents as part of the XLP (Accelerated Leadership Program) and two other GE leadership development programs he’d completed, as well as other assignments since first joining the company as an intern in Schenectady, New York.
Compounding the complexity of this XLP assignment, not only was Ammar leading the work to complete the deal, he also was building GE’s digital aluminum smelter business from scratch.
Based in Dubai, he led a team of 14 people that created a digital industrial solution for Aluminum of Greece (AOG) that is helping [WP1] AOG enhance its aluminum smelting process and contribute to increased operational efficiency and productivity.
The solution was built on GE’s cloud-based Predix operating system designed from the ground up for industrial assets and systems and is the core of GE’s push to transform itself into the world’s largest digital industrial company. Achieving so much is exactly what GE expects of its top future leaders and what they look to achieve through their globally celebrated leadership development programs.
“They put you in challenging and stretch assignments outside your comfort zone. You feel the pressure to surmount the challenge. You’ve got to learn quickly; you’ve got to build and expand your horizons and skill sets because now you are dealing with something you’ve not dealt with before, and you’ve only got a short amount of time to deliver results to the business,” Ammar says.
“This is where they shape you as a leader. They test you in tough situations. My last role (leading the digital smelter project), was very entrepreneurial,” says Ammar, who today is a Power Services Region Sourcing Executive Leader in the Middle East and Africa for GE Power.
While the stretch assignments are a key part of GE’s leadership training regimen, it’s not the only component. Ammar, and all participants in these programs also are assigned a dedicated coach, who is a more senior leader in the organization and who walks with the participant throughout their program journey.
As well, there are a range of in-person classes held a couple times a year with other global participants in the different leadership development programs. These courses build functional expertise and soft skills. They also help build personal networks across regions, industries and functions across the company. “This is a network of people you can depend on when you need support,” he says.
Clearly Ammar has learned to lead and to deliver successful projects, but what are his insights into what makes a good leader? He points to four main qualities: resilience and grit; recognizing and mentoring talent, clear communication with all types of people, and being fearless in the face of change.
“A leader has got to show resiliency and grit. I had a manager tell me, ‘heads down, pencils up.’ You always need to continue to deliver no matter the surroundings. Show grit and resilience while always delivering.
“Second, being a good leader means having an eye for talent and dedicating time to mentoring and coaching. Third, you should be able to convey a message in a compelling way and inspire through storytelling. It’s important to help people understand the situation they are in and what they need to do to get the results we are seeking.
“Part of this is helping employees to connect what they are doing with the bigger work of GE or the client. When they see these connections and see their purpose, they feel valued and inspired to give their best.”
The fourth element is “don’t be afraid of change. Change eventually creates benefits. You learn new things; you think differently; you meet new people and expand your horizons and skill sets.”
A fifth element that’s not so much a characteristic of leadership, as a capability built on the other four is being able to develop and articulate a vision for an organization or a team.
“Before, I wouldn’t have been able to express a vision of where I wanted my team to go. Now, it’s easier to define a vision, to rally a team to compete in new ways to achieve that vision. It becomes more intuitive now to become inspiring.”
Learn more about GE’s globally recognized leadership development programs and how they are being delivered to GE employees and its partners in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan.