About six months into Beth Comstock’s role as chief marketing officer at General Electric, then-CEO Jeff Immelt invited her into his conference room.
As Comstock writes in her book, “Imagine It Forward,” written with Tahl Raz, she assumed the conversation would be about a pending project.
Instead, Immelt told her, “I need you to be more confident.” He added, “I know how good you are, but I don’t hear enough from you.”
Comstock, who was vice chair of GE until 2017, was surprised — not because she felt that she was confident, but because, she told Business Insider, “I thought I was a better actress than that.”
The truth was that not only had Comstock struggled with self-confidence her whole life, but she also felt ill-prepared for this new marketing role. At GE and at NBC, she’d worked in corporate communications.
Once Immelt’s feedback had sunk in, Comstock took a series of steps to display (and feel) greater confidence. One such step, she told Business Insider, was asking Immelt to help.
Going forward, whenever he saw Comstock withdrawing or hesitating to speak, he would say, “Beth what do you think?” or, “Beth, I’ve heard you express an idea about this in the past. Could you share that with us?”
That way, Comstock said, she felt accountable to Immelt. Plus, he knew she was working on the issue.
In “Imagine It Forward,” Comstock writes that she also made a point of coming to Immelt’s meetings with strongly articulated arguments. And instead of prefacing comments with phrases like “This may be stupid, but…” she simply said what she thought.
Comstock spoke about that period in her career with Business Insider’s Richard Feloni, on an episode of the podcast “This Is Success.” She said she eventually gained enough confidence to admit what she didn’t know and ask for help. “People were very generous, and some people didn’t have time for me and you find the ones who do,” Comstock told Feloni.
Not only did the experience teach Comstock about the importance of accountability, but it also taught her an important management lesson.
Comstock told The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor that Immelt could have “written it off and said, ‘I’m not going to assign her to the next thing, because if she’s not confident enough, how can she do this?’ Instead, he spoke to her about the problem.
“I think leaders need to do that,” Comstock told McGregor. “You help the people who work with you be better. I try to emulate that with teams I work on.”
Originally published on Business Insider.
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