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Ask your boss for help, says former GE exec Beth Comstock



Beth Comstock
Make your boss your
accountability buddy.

Seto/Business Insider

  • Don’t be afraid to ask your boss for
    help on troublesome career issues.
  • That’s according to Beth Comstock, former vice chair of
    General Electric.
  • Earlier in her career, Comstock was told by GE’s CEO
    that she needed to be more confident — so she asked him to
    nudge her whenever he noticed her withdrawing.

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

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

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.

former GE and NBC exec was nearly passed over for a big promotion
because she made an all-too-relatable mistake

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 also learned that, as a manager, it’s important to help
your employees develop

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

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.”

Get the latest General Electric stock price here.

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