A former GE exec who trained new managers found almost all of them were making the same mistake

A former GE exec who trained new managers found almost all of them were making the same mistake

Beth Comstock


"We look for alibis," said Beth Comstock, pictured.

  • Beth Comstock is the former vice chair of General Electric.
  • She led seminars for new GE managers, and noticed that most of the leaders were making the same mistake: waiting for permission to try something new.
  • Comstock would hand out "permission slips" authorizing employees to take risks - but she also said it's important for individuals to stop hiding behind their excuses.

Beth Comstock doesn't tolerate excuses.

As the former vice chair of General Electric - she left the company last year after nearly three decades - Comstock would make sure that no one else in the organization did, either.

Comstock, who is the coauthor, with Tahl Raz, of "Imagine it Forward," used to lead seminars for new managers at GE. She told Business Insider that the most common mistake she saw was "the feeling that people have to get permission to make things happen."

This isn't unique to GE managers, either - it's a trap that people at all levels of all organizations tend to fall into. Comstock said, "We look for alibis. 'My boss won't let me. I don't have enough budget. There's not enough time. That's somebody else's job.' Many times those are true, but you've got to ask yourself: Is that holding me back?"


Comstock's observations recall those of other executives and career experts, about taking on additional responsibilities before you've received explicit permission from your manager.

Libby Leffler, the vice president of membership at SoFi, as well as a former Googler and Facebook executive, advises people who are gunning for a promotion: "Why don't you start doing that role today? Not tomorrow, not a month from now. If that's the role that you really want, start doing it."

And career coach Rebecca Fraser-Thill told me, "Sometimes we do have to act as if." In other words, try acting as though you've already received a title bump. Then you can present your manager with all the contributions you've made to the organization.

Comstock, for her part, developed a way to help managers who were hiding behind their excuses. She kept a stack of paper "permission slips" on her desk (you can see an example on Comstock's Facebook page) and encouraged her team to take them when they wanted to try something new and innovative.

"It's kind of goofy, but it works," she said. "As a team leader, I can say, 'I've got your back. I'm giving you permission to go figure this out.' But you also have to do it yourself."


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