Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?
An article review and commentary by John Bonner
Why should anyone be led by you? This question produces a moment of humble reflection for anyone aspiring to lead others—at least it should. Leaders need followers, and following is a voluntary behavior.
The 10-page article Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones identifies four unexpected qualities that inspirational leaders possess based on extensive research. The authors argue that “although you may achieve a leadership position without these qualities, few will want to be led by you if you lack them.” Here is a summary of their four key points:
1. Selectively Reveal Your Weaknesses
By selectively showing a weakness (being irritable on Monday morning, being somewhat disorganized, etc.) a leader can connect by demonstrating that he is just like you—imperfect. This builds trust and authenticity. It also demonstrates to others that you, as a leader, can’t do it all by yourself. It is obviously important to be cautious and selective when showing your weakness. Don’t reveal a fatal flaw.
2. Become a Sensor
Inspirational leaders are adept and collecting and interpreting ‘soft data’ revealed through interpersonal interactions. By developing the ability to read what isn’t being said, they can more easily identify potential problems before they spin out of control, and better communicate on sensitive issues with clarity and finesse. The authors warn that it is important to test your perceptions with a trusted friend for advisor, and by seeking feedback from those you lead.
3. Practice Tough Empathy
Inspirational leaders manage employees with something called tough empathy. Tough empathy means they care intensely about their people, and the work they do. At the same time, they give their people what they need, not what they want.
4. Dare to be Different
Inspirational leaders capitalize on what is unique about themselves in order to keep social distance. They recognize that leadership is not a popularity contest, and instead remain somewhat aloof. The point: effective leaders differentiate themselves from the crowd to preserve and build their influence.
Can These Attributes Be Learned?
While the authors' points are interesting, what are leaders to do with them? It seems to me that some leaders are born with these attributes; others will never have them. Can they be learned? Training someone to be authentic or to genuinely care about those they lead presents obvious problems. However, any leader can dramatically improve his or her leadership influence and skill by recognizing their importance, learning techniques to increase self-awareness and interpersonal prowess, and acquiring the ability to effectively communicate the authentic respect and passion they already possess.
And that will go a long way toward inspiring those they lead.
You can purchase the entire article at Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Review.
John Bonner is the Vice President for EvCC’s Corporate & Workforce Training. firstname.lastname@example.org