Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Should Anyone Want To Be Led By You?

Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones asked this question in an article in the Harvard Business Review in 2000 and it’s just as relevant today as it was back then. Why should anyone want to be led by you?
Goffee and Jones highlight how they’d found over the last ten years that “if you want to silence a room of executives, try this small trick. Ask them this very same question and without fail, the response is a sudden, stunned hush. All you can hear are knees knocking. Executives have good reason to be scared. You can’t do anything in business without followers, and followers in these ‘empowered’ times are hard to find. So executives had better know what it takes to lead effectively - they must find ways to engage people and rouse their commitment to company goals. But most don’t know how, and who can blame them? There’s simply too much advice out there. In 1999 alone, more than 2,000 books on leadership were published; some of them even repackaging Moses and Shakespeare as leadership gurus.”
It seems in the 21st Century a lot of people will claim to be great leaders and many more will claim they would be great leaders if someone would just give them the chance to lead – but do we ever really ask this very valid question? It’s simple, but brilliant – though of course it demands an honest answer as well.
Goffee and Jones discovered that inspirational leaders share four unexpected qualities – though I’d personally question why they’d consider them ‘unexpected’; 
  • By exposing some vulnerability, they reveal their approachability and humanity.
  • Their ability to collect and interpret soft data helps them know just when and how to act.
  • Inspirational leaders empathize passionately and realistically with people, and they care intensely about the work employees do.
  • They capitalize on what’s unique about themselves.
They suggest that you may find yourself in a top position without these qualities, but few people will want to be led by you.
The other problem with leadership is that it does come with power and it’s often the power bit that goes to the head and changes people for the worse. Seeing the power that comes with leadership as a ‘tool’ to do good rather than bad is a vital step in embracing effective leadership.
This ‘power bit’ is easily ignored – but it is both real and toxic. Most bad leaders get consumed by the power and what they can do with it – both good and bad; whereas effective leaders use the ‘power’ potion of their position for good.
As Goffee and Jones mention “all four of the qualities described here are necessary for inspirational leadership, but they cannot be used mechanically. They must become or must already be part of an executive’s personality. That’s why the ‘recipe’ business books, those that prescribe to the Lee Iacocca or Bill Gates way, often fail. No one can just ape another leader. So the challenge facing prospective leaders is for them to be themselves, but with more skill. That 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.”
So the question still remains, whether you are currently in a leadership position or have ambitions to become a leader – why would anyone want to be led by you? Your honest analysis of this question on an ongoing basis will make you a better leader – as it will force you to first of all deal with the very basics of leadership and then allow you to become a better leader each and every day.
The overriding factor in all of this is honesty – if you answer the question with a ‘wish list’ rather than your own reality – you are doomed to fail and will lead from a position of complete denial. These leaders do exist – but they don’t have to. Leadership is a privilege – so embrace it with all of your being and try to be the best you can be and never forget the ultimate question – why would anyone want to be led by you?
Goffee, R. and Jones, G. (2000). Why Should Anyone Be Led By You. Harvard Business Review. September.

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