Before 2016 concludes I want to acknowledge the 10th anniversary of Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, which grew out of their classic HBR article of the same title. Subtitled What it Takes to be an Authentic Leader (and published with a new preface in 2015), this book had a substantial impact on my approach to coaching when I encountered it just as I was launching my practice, and I continue to find it a valuable resource today.
At the core of Goffee and Jones' work are a set of principles distilled from their work as coaches and consultants to senior leaders in a range of fields:
Everyone agrees that leaders need vision, energy, authority, and strategic direction. That goes without saying. But we've discovered that inspirational leaders also share four unexpected qualities:
- They selectively show their weaknesses. By exposing some vulnerability, they reveal their approachability and humanity.
- They rely heavily on intuition to gauge the appropriate timing and course of their actions. Their ability to collect and interpret soft data helps them know just when and how to act.
- They manage employees with something we call tough empathy. Inspirational leaders empathize passionately--and realistically--with people, and they care intensely about the work employees do.
- They reveal their differences. They capitalize on what's unique about themselves.
You may find yourself in a top position without these qualities, but few people will want to be led by you.
All of these ideas have found expression in my own work with clients and students. I'm a committed believer in the importance of vulnerability as a leadership tool--and I firmly agree with Brené Brown that "vulnerability" isn't "letting it all hang out," oversharing, or indiscriminate disclosure.
The work of neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio, Richard Davidson, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Joseph LeDoux, and Matthew Lieberman and of executive coach David Rock--particularly Damasio's work on the relationship between emotion and reason and Rock's study of the conditions that trigger a social threat--has reinforced my conviction that intuition and sensitivity to subtle emotional signals are essential leadership skills.
My definition of "tough empathy" is the ability to balance support and challenge, and while I believe that effective leaders foster a sense of safety, trust and intimacy that allows people to take risks and grow, I also believe that they hold people accountable in a culture of responsibility.
And I think the ability to understand and celebrate the differences that make them unique--the courage to let their freak flags fly--is a sign of personal strength that distinguishes great leaders from the merely good.
Thank you, Rob and Gareth.