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Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?

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What It Takes to Be an Authentic Leader

By Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones

Book Review by Dr. Ron Cacioppe

Many companies are managed not by leaders, but by role players and boring bureaucrats. But what does it take to be a real leader—one who is confident in who she is and what she stands for, and who truly inspires people to achieve extraordinary results? In their book: “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?” Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, two British management consultants and academics, state that leaders don’t become great by having a list of universal character traits. Rather, effective leaders are authentic: they deploy individual strengths to engage followers’ hearts, minds, and souls. They are skilful at consistently being themselves, even as they alter their behaviours to respond effectively in changing situations. What qualities make a great leader? Why do we dislike being led by some, but embrace being led by others?

Opinions about leadership, leadership styles, and leaders themselves have resounded through the centuries, growing increasingly complex. Theories have been espoused by Plato, Voltaire, Weber, Freud, and many others. Over time, certain traits like decisiveness, honesty, and confidence were considered the key things that resulted in successful leadership but this approach gave way to situational and contingency approaches that brought in factors such as the power of the leader, and the level of development of the followers in order to try to better predict the effectiveness of leaders. More recently, having a great vision and the ability to transform people and organisations became the key factors of extraordinary leadership.

Goffee and Jones draw from their research to describe how to improve and use one’s unique leadership abilities while managing the inner tensions to be the heart of successful leadership. These inner tensions include showing emotion or withholding it, getting close to followers while keeping distance, and maintaining individuality while “conforming enough.” This book emphasises the social nature of leadership and explores how leaders can remain attuned to the needs and expectations of followers.

The authors agree with other research – that leaders need vision, energy, authority, and strategic direction. But then they also emphasis that great or inspirational leaders also possess four completely new qualities:

  • They selectively show their weaknesses; by exposing some vulnerability they reveal they are approachable and human.
  • They rely heavily on intuition to gauge the appropriate timing and course of their actions.
  • They manage others with “tough empathy.”
  • They reveal their differences, capitalizing on their unique qualities.

 

You may be in a top position without these qualities but few people will want to be led by you. They emphasise that all four qualities are necessary for leadership, but cannot be used in a mechanical way. Instead, these qualities must become part of, or must already belong to, a potential leader’s personality. These four qualities are only a first step: “Taken together, they tell executives to be authentic. In short, ‘Be your self—more—with skill.’ This simple advice, however, is not easy to follow.

Based on their research, they say leadership is a complex social science including the relationship between leaders and the led. A major part of the book covers the relational aspect of leadership stating, “you cannot be a leader without followers”. Since the relationship between people is both individual and complex, there is no simple way to explain it so the authors use many of their own examples.

According to the authors, people want to be led not by a person with a fancy job title or a manager who has amassed a vast chunk of organisational power or territory. Employees will choose to follow only a real, live, genuine human being who reveals some of their humanity, values, personality and, even, vulnerability.

Goffee and Jones say that it all comes down to three key areas for leaders as they craft the nature of that space between themselves and their employees:

  • Knowing yourself
  • Managing the balance in a number of aspects of your relationships
  • Engaging in what they call “Situational Sensing”

Knowing Yourself

Obviously, in order to self-disclose, you need to know about yourself. Not surprisingly, the research on effective leaders identifies self-awareness as a core competency. To begin with, you should be clear on your strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes this calls for you to take a look back at your earlier, formative years and understand how this shaped your personality, values, behaviours and biases.

It is important to understand what it is about you that causes others to be influenced by you and choose to follow you. What works for you when you are leading at your best? Is it part of your personality, for example, your ability to put people at ease? Or is it perhaps your ability to stay focused and composed when under pressure or is it your passion and vision for the business? For Virgin’s Richard Branson, it is his nonconformity and informality, for Bill Clinton, his engaging speaking ability and his personal charm. Finally, you must know what you want, what your purpose is, what you intend to create in your current leadership role. Again not surprisingly, other research supports a clear vision as a hallmark of effective leaders.

Managing the Balance of Inner Tensions

This book considers leading others as similar to an ongoing dance. It describes three natural, inherent tensions that leaders must manage well if they are to be effective.

  • How much do I reveal and should it be just my strengths or also some weaknesses and areas where I’m not so knowledgeable? Your employees need to know enough about you to be able to relate to and come to trust your human side. They don’t, however, want to be privy to too many weaknesses because that will detract from the strong leader they want to see in you.
  • How personally close should I be with my direct reports? This involves what is known as “social distance” and you want to use it skilfully. Establish a sufficiently personal connection to process the emotional elements in your working relationships but not so close that you can’t impose and, if necessary, enforce the challenging performance expectations you have of your staff. The book recounts the story of Karel Vuursteen who took over a rather complacent Heineken Brewery in the early 1990’s. Knowing how much he needed to shake up the culture there, he remained (uncharacteristically for him) distant with his executives until he had sufficiently scared them with the reality of how vulnerable they were to losing market share to the competition. Once his top team demonstrated that they were performing with the requisite competitive sense of urgency, Vuursteen was able to shift to his more natural closer style of relating.
  • How hard do I push my own performance standards and insist that my people conform to the values I have articulated and modelled in my unit or in the organization as a whole? The answer to this question is covered in the section “situational sensing,” below.

 

Situational Sensing

The authors describe effective leadership as a person’s ability to adapt their style to different situations and that the best leaders possess excellent sensory acuity. Goffee and Jones point out that good leaders seem able to accurately assess a situation and adjust their approach and behaviour accordingly. The book illustrates the point with many practical examples. Many new leaders, the authors say, start out from day one like a wild west sheriff, riding into town with guns blazing and imposing their law and authority with little interest in the context of the situation, the history of the town, or what the people want. So then, how should our latter day “sheriff” come into a new leadership situation? Goffee and Jones recommend a low key entry. Timing is everything. As a newly appointed leader, especially if coming in from outside the department or organisation, you are advised to delay imposing your standards right away and instead do some situational sensing.

You can do this by:

  • Spending time early on observing, asking questions, and listening, with a goal to understanding the current status quo, your direct reports, other key players and the employee group, their skills, perspectives and needs.
  • As much as possible, adapt your behaviour in the short run to fit in with the existing culture.
  • Once you have determined what needs to be changed and how best to change it, you can begin to assert your own values and expectations.

 

When Greg Dyke became Director General of the BBC, he toured the local offices across Britain to see what was happening first hand vs. just accepting the established view from head office. What he found was a professional staff who had innovative ideas and a strong commitment to public-service broadcasting but who were afraid to buck the formality of the hierarchy. Then Dyke began by “rewriting the context.” He phased out limos and chauffeurs, cut the budgets for external consultants, and even showed up for a presentation to regional employees the day after his own home had tragically burned down. This whole idea about new managers or CEO’s not rushing to impose their “new order around here” is one of the useful messages of this book. Again, because timing is everything, you must not wait too long to begin moving on your own agenda and ways of operating. There are no hard and fast guidelines for when to start asserting yourself. Essentially, it is your intuitive judgment call as leader. Situational sensing requires you to operate outside of your comfort zone for at least awhile. Most leaders are action-oriented. To the extent this is true of you, this front-end waiting and observing phase will be uncomfortable for you. It will demand patience and self-confidence as you immerse yourself in the culture you are inheriting.

Limitations of the Book

First, this book promises to provide the complete answer to successful leadership but it covers essentially only three elements of leadership, a much narrower treatment than the promises. They provide a brief acknowledgement that vision and strategic thinking are also useful aspects of leadership but suggest you only really need their three characteristics to be a successful leader. Because they are so quick to marginalise other substantial research on leadership, especially the more recent studies on transformational leadership, they seem to be saying that they have discovered the real secret of leadership that others have missed. It might have been more appropriate to say: “Here are three more important pieces to the leadership puzzle”, rather than to say we have solved the puzzle and it only needs three major pieces.

Second, while the authors continually point out that the book is a result of their extensive research over five years, there is little description and discussion of their research methodology. They do not provide numbers of interviews, the questions or content of the interviews, their method of observation, how they selected leaders, etc. Their ‘research’ seems to be more a series of impressions and memories from organisational consultancy jobs rather than a well organised scientific study. If a Masters or PhD student were to hand in this book as a qualitative research study for a thesis, this work would be strongly criticised by every academic who read it as inadequate to support their findings and conclusions. While much of what the authors say seems reasonable based on their experience, to describe it under the banner of scientific research is drawing a long bow.

Along the same lines, Goffey and Jones use a lot of examples from their own experience to validate their three major dimensions of leadership. While these examples are interesting, some reviewers have been critical that there are too many of their personal examples in the book.

Third, and a key area that is never quite addressed is; How “authentic” are you being when you consciously measure out your display of openness, closeness or ‘social distance’ and when you delay modelling your own style and values? Also, is holding back a portion of your emotions a characteristic of a successful Englishman (both authors are English) or of a successful leader? Can authentic leadership be partially authentic or situationally authentic?

My last and most significant criticism is that Goffee and Jones state that this book didn’t want to discuss or get into questions of self identity, self concept or any aspect of what the self is as considered by psychologists or philosophers. They say that these topics are covered in depth by other scholars and are not really necessary for the purpose of this book and their findings. Yet a major message of the book is to be your authentic self – the very self they did not want to delve into too deeply. More specifically, there is a growing and substantial body of research and scholarly work that describes the levels of self of human development and leadership. Writers and academics like Cook-Greuter, Torbert, Graves, Beck and Wilber have described levels of self that evolves from a physical sensory to a mental-emotional egoic self to a Self that transcends the ego and realises a oneness and connectedness with others and the world. Goffee and Jones do not mention or acknowledge any of this in their book yet there is a great deal of recent research and books indicating that the ‘authentic’ self can only be realised when a person reaches a state of development that transcends the ego and realises its union with the Kosmos or divine. Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and a number of modern leaders like Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, Ray Andersen of InterFloor and Phil Jackson, Coach of the L.A. Lakers recognise that this interconnectedness with the world and the transcending of the ego lead to great performance and great organisations.

Practical Relevance and Questions to Consider:

Who was the best boss you ever had?

While reading Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? I thought of often of my first boss,Ted Hissey, because he exemplified for me the kind of authentic leader described in this book. Ted was always his authentic self, he shared his family, his kids and his love of sport and even more, he brought out the best in me and others. I always felt Ted really cared about my welfare and future. Thirty-five years after I left the company, he called me when he was visiting Australia for an international engineers conference. He looked in every phone book in every state capital city to find and call me just to say hello and ask how my life was going. After talking to him on the phone that night, he made me wonder about my own qualities as a leader and what I could do to care about and bring the best out in others. This book makes us ask good questions of ourselves and if we are doing the things that result in people wanting to be led by us. While reading this book, one of the employees in our company handed in her resignation. She said she felt she would like to try something else in her life and had enough of the administration work she had been doing for us. Does that mean I wasn’t doing the things described in this book that successful leaders do or did it mean she was moving on because she needed to move on?

There are a number of other issues and inner tensions that this book considers that are important:

  • Should you be an open book, or should there be an element of mystery about you? As General Charles DeGaulle said, “There must always be something about the leader which others cannot fathom.”
  • When you are a new leader, do you make some dramatic changes early up to show there will be something different with you as a leader or do you get the lay of the land and then make changes?
  • While Goffee and Jones don’t give a lot of attention to strategic thinking, dealing with poor performance and conflict between major key players or how to achieve the results , we need to ask ourselves. How important do you see these other factors or do you feel that Goffey and Jones have it right? Maybe we are wasting a lot of our leadership time and should focus on the three things that they say we should; Self knowledge, Managing balance and Situational sensing?

 

This book attempts to describe the complexities of leadership. Many books on leadership portray leadership in simplistic terms, offering a model of leadership and suggest that if you adhere to the model, you will become a successful leader in a short time. The underlying assumption is that leadership is something you do to other people, while Goffee and Jones point out, “leadership should be seen as something we do with other people.”

This book has significant value for a person who wants to understand more fully how to ‘know’ his or her self and to be a better leader of people. It provides excellent ideas and practical examples on how to be an effective leader at an interpersonal level and how to keep people wanting to follow your leadership.

Ron Cacioppe

Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD. He has taught in the Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

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