Welch Gets It: Don’t Criticize Your Successor

Good on Jack Welch for his loud and public mea culpa both on this morning’s CNBC and in Business Week, after he screwed up big time on CNBC yesterday. His criticism of his successor was pretty harsh, but his backtracking is frank, unambiguous, and clearly not forced upon him by some PR guy.

"Nothing, nothing, nothing is as disgusting to me as some old CEO chirping away about how things are not as good under the new guy as they were under him," Welch said in a Thursday appearance on CNBC. "… GE is a great company, with a great model, with a helluva CEO who’s reshuffled the business portfolio to make it stronger … and I’m in 100 percent support of everything going on there."

I’m not by nature a big fan of Welch, but in this instance the likes of Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker should really listen to him. Let the guy in charge be the guy in charge, and don’t second-guess or undercut him. You used to be an important leader; don’t weaken your successor’s legacy and your own by becoming just another media pundit. It might seem unfair for you to be singled out as the one person who isn’t allowed to criticize your successor’s performance; if it does, then just suck it up anyway. There are worse problems to have.

Of course, if you make too many public pronouncements on such issues, you reveal yourself to be little more than a rentaquote, and at that point you’ve pretty much lost your credibility. At that point, pundit away, you can’t do any harm any more.

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