A senior GE exec says successful leadership depends on how you spend 10% of your time

Beth Comstock GEGE‘Make room for discovery,’ says Beth Comstock, pictured.

As you ascend the corporate ladder and your free time gets ever more limited, it might seem like the first thing to get rid of is all those optional activities — like going to conferences, watching educational talks, and relaxedly “ideating.”

Ask Beth Comstock, vice chair of General Electric, and she’ll tell you that’s a terrible idea.

In an interview with LinkedIn’s editor in chief Daniel Roth, Comstock gave some leadership advice that applies both to people relatively new in their careers and to those who have been in the workforce for a while:

“The first thing you have to say to people is: Make room for discovery. If I manage myself, I manage a team, I manage a division, there’s a certain amount of your budget, your time, your people that need to be focused on what’s next.

“And it could be 10% — you know for yourself. I think usually 10% is a pretty good way to think about it.

“Think about how you manage your own time. Can I spend 10% of my time a week reading, going to sites like Singularity, TED, talking to people, going to industry events, asking people: What trends are you seeing? What are you nervous about? What are you excited about?”

This drive to learn new things may be an integral part of Comstock’s success. In 2012, when she was GE’s chief marketing officer, she spoke to Fast Company about her penchant for change in her career: “I’m propelled by curiosity … My formative years at GE, every two years I moved to a new assignment.”

And soon after earning the vice chair title in 2015, Comstock told The Washington Post that one of the biggest keys to her success is “curiosity — wanting to learn and to constantly try to be better and do better.”

Sure, switching assignments every two years is one way to get a fresh perspective. But you can also take it down a notch and do what Comstock suggested to Roth in the LinkedIn interview: read, research, and network relentlessly — for just one out of every 10 hours you spend at work.

Watch Daniel Roth’s full interview with Beth Comstock on LinkedIn»

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