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The Body Language of Leadership – GE Dividend Disconnect

image Watch this excerpt from a February 5, 2009 Wall Street Journal video interview with GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt by Allan Murray, Online Executive Editor. Please watch the whole thing but pay particular attention to the first few minutes where Immelt discusses GE’s dividend.

Yesterday, GE announced that they would slash their sacred dividend by nearly 70%, it’s first cut since 1938. (GE Press release and MarketWatch article)

Leading a public company is tricky business, especially for a company of GE’s stature. There’s no doubt about it. Add the ever-changing Global Financial Crisis and things become even more challenging.

However, that’s not what this post is about.

In the above video, Murray asks a direct question about GE’s dividend and follows up with a statement about the last interview they did together one year earlier. Immelt does not answer the question directly but creates the impression that GE’s dividend is not currently under threat of being cut. However, in doing so he appears incredibly uncomfortable. He changes his posture, leaning forward and then away from the interviewer. In contrast to what takes place before and after this sequence, he looks down, away from the interviewer and out into whatever audience is there almost as an appeal. The cadence and tone of his speech also changes markedly. As would be expected, he embarks upon a defense of GE’s business fundamentals and financial strength. When the discussion moves on, he seems to get back into a more comfortable rhythm which he maintains throughout the rest of the interview. (additional video)

How we say things is often just as important as what we say. This video offers an effective example about how leaders, even those at the highest levels, communicate without actually saying anything.

About the author

Peter A. Mello, Founder/Editor Founder of Weekly Leader and Sea-Fever Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and strategic communications consultancy. Previously, CEO of an international nonprofit organization and COO of a national insurance/risk management services firm. Peter has been leading people and managing organizations for over 30 years, writes a leadership column for MarineNews magazine and blogs about maritime culture at Sea-Fever. Follow him on Twitter.

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