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Jeff Immelt: "Reflections on Leadership for Social Change"

09/28/2009 10:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Jeff Immelt has one of the toughest jobs in America. He's CEO of a company -- General Electric -- with operations around the world, in numerous industries, and with big business challenges that are still on the table. He's been named one of the "World's Best CEOs" three times by Barron's, and GE continues to win accolades in surveys in Fortune and the Financial Times as one of the most respect companies in the world.

So when Jeff Immelt agreed to participate in new Dartmouth President Jim Kim's Panel on Leadership for Social Change in Hanover, NH September 21, it was a big deal. And he didn't disappoint. This clip from the panel discussion is a classic case in point. I asked Jeff about some of the pivotal events in his life that had a major impact on the direction of his career, and he jumped to his Dartmouth years.

His conversations with former President John Kemeny, who he worked for as a grader of math assignments, would have made for fascinating listening to be sure. Kemeny was one of the greatest academic leaders and innovators of the 20th century, and I would have loved to be a fly on the wall as he quizzed Jeff about what was happening at the College. The lesson Jeff drew from those experiences should resonate with most anyone who stops to think about it: The smartest people ask more questions than they answer!

I like that lesson because as a teacher, I am in the business of asking questions, both to students in the classroom and to executives I interact with as an advisor. But the lesson is more powerful than that because all of us, regardless of what we do for a living, can help ourselves by being open to new ideas and different points of view. It's all about the learning. The more we learn, the better we become, and the more we can do, for others and ourselves. So Lesson #1 ends, appropriately, with a question: How can we learn something new, today?