- 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: They were 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 people to stop hiding behind their excuses.
Beth Comstock doesn’t tolerate excuses.
As the vice chair of General Electric, Comstock, who left the company last year after nearly three decades, would make sure that no one else in the organisation did either.
Comstock, who wrote the book “Imagine It Forward” with Tahl Raz, 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 – it’s a trap that people at all levels of all organisations tend to fall into.
“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,'” Comstock said. “Many times those are true, but you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Is that holding me back?'”
Comstock’s observations are similar to those of other executives and career experts about taking on additional responsibilities before you’ve received explicit permission from your manager.
Libby Leffler, a former Googler and Facebook executive who’s now the vice president of membership at SoFi, has advice for people 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 Rebecca Fraser-Thill, a career coach, told me that “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 organisation.
Comstock 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.”