Why should anyone accept you as their leader?

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Executives have good reason to be scared, they say, as you can't do anything in business without followers, who are hard to find these days.

People need clear reasons for following others and despite a surfeit of management advice, executives don't know how to go about being leaders.

In a research article in Harvard Business Review, Goffee and Jones identify four qualities they have found common to inspirational leaders: not just qualities such as vision and authority, but also a strong sense of humanity and the ability to connect emotionally with people they lead.

Goffee is a professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, while Jones is a director of HR and internal communications at the BBC. They are the founding partners of Creative Management associates, a London consulting firm.

Some of the leadership qualities identified may come as surprise. One example is the selective revealing of weaknesses.

By exposing some vulnerability, they argue, leaders reveal their approachability and humanity. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, is cited as effective at communicating his vulnerability: ill at ease and fumbling when interviewed in public, this shows followers that he is genuine and approachable, say the authors.

Good leaders also rely on intuition to gauge appropriate timing and course of actions - they have an ability to collect and interpret soft data which helps them know just when and how to act.

The authors describe these qualities as &quotgood situation sensors&quot, or an ability to read signals and sense what's going on without having it spelled out for them.

Inspirational leaders also empathise passionately - and realistically - with people and care intensely about the work employees do.

They manage their workforce with something Goffee and Jones call &quottough empathy&quot, or an ability to give people what they need, rather than what they may want.

Finally, they are also capable of revealing their differences and capitalising on what is unique about themselves.

Sir John Harvey-Jones, former chief executive of ICI, is given as an example of a leader clever in developing differences that he exploited to show he was adventurous, entrepreneurial and unique.

An ability to capitalise on their differences to create social distance and signal separateness also helps leaders.

The authors cite an anecdote involving David Prosser, chief executive of Legal & General. He is described as an outsider rather than a smooth City of London type.

&quotThough generally approachable, Prosser has a hard edge which he uses in an understated but highly effective way,&quot they write.

When a sales manager at a party claimed how good the company was at cross-selling products, Prosser said in a low voice: &quotWe may be good, but we're not good enough.&quot

What was Prosser's point? &quotDon't feel so close you can relax!,&quot suggest Goffee and Jones. &quotI'm the leader and I make that call. Don't you forget it.&quot

Inspirational leaders recognise that followers will push themselves if their leader is a little aloof, but this can be dangerous. If leaders create too much distance, they stop being good sensors and lose the ability to identify and care.

The authors cite the example of Robert Horton, chairman and chief executive of BP for just three years in the early 1990s.

&quotConspicuous display of his considerable - indeed, daunting - intelligence sometimes led others to see him as arrogant and self-aggrandising. That resulted in over-differentiation,&quot they write.

Having identified qualities they believe characterise leaders, Goffee and Jones point out that it is the interplay between the qualities that is crucial to good leadership.

While leaders need all the qualities to be truly inspirational, they tend to mix and match them to find the right style for the right moment. The end result must be authenticity.

These leadership qualities are a necessary first step and must become or already be part of an executive's personality.

&quotThat can be done by making yourself increasingly aware of the four leadership qualities we describe and by manipulating these qualities to come up with a personal style that works for you,&quot say the authors.

Shakespeare advised: &quotTo thine own self be true&quot. Goffee and Jones tell executives they coach to &quotBe yourselves more, with skill.&quot As they point out, there can be no advice more difficult to follow.

Why should anyone be led by you? - Robert Goffe and Gareth Jones

Harvard Business Review, September-October 2000

www.hbr.org

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