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Review of "Why should anyone be led by you? – What it takes to be an authentic leader" by


18 December 2014

Leadership matters.

The difference a leader can make is simply illustrated by looking, for example, at Manchester United Football Club. Compare its performance under the managers Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. Basically the same team of players and the same physical club environment led to dramatically different results under each of the three leaders.

My professional career and my voluntary activities have given me the opportunity to see many leaders close up, both at large organisations and at much smaller ones. For example my role on the Supervisory Board at PricewaterhouseCoopers meant that I saw a great deal of the firm’s Senior Partner and also the partners leading the firm’s individual service lines. I also had significant exposure to the leaders at my clients.

From time to time I have had leadership responsibilities. Examples are four years leading the PwC Finance and Treasury Taxation Network, and my current role as chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum.

Accordingly, I have always been interested in leadership and how it differs from management.

The first question of course is are leaders born or made? In my view it is a bit of both.

When it comes to making leaders, unless one knows large organisations from the inside, it is easy to underestimate the amount of resources that firms such as PwC put into training their people, especially future leaders. This includes not only technical training but large amounts of “soft skills” training, including leadership training. As an illustration, in 1989 Price Waterhouse sent me to Oxford University for a month to study economics at a cash cost of £5,000 plus about £10,000 of lost billable time.

About the book

The book was published in 2006. I bought it in June 2009 because it was mentioned by PwC’s senior partner Ian Powell who appears in the book as one of the leaders discussed. Later on I discovered that I already had a copy! I must have been given it as a result of attending a course at the London Business School. I read it earlier this year as part of preparing to lead the Conservative Muslim Forum.

The authors

Rob Goffee is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School.

Gareth Jones is a visiting professor at INSEAD and a Fellow of the Centre for Management Development at London Business School. He was Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources at PolyGram and, later, Director of Human Resources and Internal Communications at the BBC.

They work in partnership and have the website

Structure of the book

The chapter titles give a good illustration of what the authors consider important.

"Introduction – why should anyone be led by you?

  1. Be yourself – more – with skill
  2. Know and show yourself – enough
  3. Take personal risks
  4. Read – and rewrite – the context
  5. Remain authentic – but conform enough
  6. Manage social distance
  7. Communicate – with care
  8. Authentic followership
  9. The price and prize of leadership

Appendix A – Evaluating your leadership potential
Appendix B – Maximising authenticity and skill"

Leadership is a very intangible thing to write about. Accordingly it is not easy to dip into the book and quote some straightforward pieces of advice. However I have reproduced some brief extracts below which illustrate the book's style as well as seeking to capture some of the messages.

Be yourself – more – with skill

The authors talk about the importance of being nonhierarchical.

“This leads to our second observation: leadership is nonhierarchical. Much of the leadership literature is overly concerned with those who reach the top of organisations. In fact, we would go so far as to say that the persistent misconception that people who occupy senior organisational positions are leaders has probably damaged our capacity to understand leadership more than anything else. It has blinded us to the true nature of leadership.

While we recognise that there is a relationship between hierarchy and leadership (they may fulfill a similar function, for example, by investing authority), we view the relationship as contingent. Being given a particular organisational title – team leader, section head, and vice president – may confer some hierarchical authority, but it certainly does not make you a leader. Hierarchy alone is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the exercise of leadership.

Indeed, it could be argued that the qualities that take you to the top of large-scale and often highly political organisations are not obviously the ones associated with leadership. People who make it to the top do so for a whole variety of reasons – including political acumen, personal ambition, time-serving, even nepotism – rather than real leadership quality.

Our interviews and experience inside organisations confirms that leadership is not the sole preserve of the chosen few. Great organisations have leaders at all levels. Some of the first work we did on leadership involved examining military organisations. Our assumption was that their hierarchical  nature would make leadership development difficult. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best military organisations understand that when they move into action, they simply cannot rely on hierarchy; it may be obliterated when the first mortar lands. It is imperative that they develop leadership capability throughout. They do.

It is not just the military that has reached this realisation. Consider Sonae, Portugal’s largest company, an organisation we will examine in more detail later. Sonae’s business stretches from wood veneers to telecommunications, taking in a huge retail operation. It focuses relentlessly on high performance – mediocrity is not tolerated. The company’s mission statement starkly states, “At Sonae you are either a leader or a candidate to be a leader.” The implication is clear; if you are neither, Sonae is not the place for you.

Successful organisations – be they hospitals, charities, or commercial enterprises – seek to build leadership capability widely and to give people the opportunity to exercise it.”

The authors also address the subject of whether people actually want leadership.

“All these qualities, however, are necessary but not sufficient conditions for leadership. Individuals must also want to be leaders – and many very talented individuals are not interested in shouldering that responsibility. Others prefer to devote more time to their private lives than to their work. After all, there is more to life than work, and more to work than being the leader.

This sense of other priorities is often missed in popular discussions of leadership – particularly in business. To assume that everyone has the sheer energy, drive and willpower required to offer inspirational leadership to others is facile. While, as we argue, each individual has unique differences that potentially can be exploited in a leadership role, each of us has to address the harsh question, Do we want it? And if we do, do we want it enough to put in the work required and make the necessary sacrifices?

It may well be that a variety of factors – unimaginative educational systems, limiting jobs, bureaucratic hierarchies – relentlessly crush the individual spirit that lies at the root of authentic leadership. Remove these barriers, and we, like the others, are sure that more leaders may emerge. But it is too big a jump to assume we may all want it."

Know and show yourself – enough

The authors stress that there is no single model of a leader and people are very different.

“Many more leaders maximise the impact of their difference. Think of the current [in 2006] Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. He dresses like a slightly careworn school teacher, speaks in a distinctive nasal way, and has a passion for newts. He makes a point of regularly commuting to work on the public subway system. On at least two occasions, he has used his leadership to change London’s transport system – by dramatically reducing fares and, more recently, by introducing congestion charging for central London road traffic. Few other politicians could have introduced such a potentially unpopular idea without losing office. Livingstone was returned to office in 2004 with a comfortable majority. He succeeds because people believe that he really identifies with Londoners. They may disagree with his political beliefs, but are still prepared to vote for him because he radiates concern about London.”

Take personal risks

The authors stress that leaders should not try to pretend that they have no weaknesses. Indeed the revelation of a weakness can help your followers to relate better to you.

“Knowing which weaknesses to reveal, and when, is often a highly honed art closely linked to the ability to sense the requirements of different situations – a theme we address in detail in the next chapter. For example, while coach of the Newcastle United, Barcelona, and England soccer teams, the well-traveled veteran, Sir Bobby Robson, developed a reputation for confusing or completely forgetting players’ names. Few leaders would be able to survive this potentially fatal, basic error. But Robson was able to craft this weakness around his love for the game of soccer. His players indulged him – as they would an elderly, eccentric professor – and Robson learned to use his forgetfulness as a mischievous source of locker-room humour.

Here, then, is a weakness working for a leader – confirming, through personal foibles, their humanity. And it is this humanity-enhancing quality that is the most important reason why aspiring leaders must learn to be comfortable with at least some of their areas of incompetence and personal weakness. In effect, weaknesses reveal that a person is present – not a mere role holder. Think, for example, of the abiding popular affection for President John F. Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, and Princess Diana. All exhibited, in fairly public fashion, human weaknesses for which we forgave them. All showed enough for us to see that they might be more than, respectively, just another politician, sportsman, or member of royalty. All remain with their reputations largely intact.

Take President Kennedy. Ask any group of people to identify his weaknesses. In our experience, they will unerringly speak of him as a womanizer – some with envy and some with moral condemnation. The truth is that, by all accounts, he was a fairly indiscreet womanizer. The revelation of this weakness has, through the generations, effectively served to divert attention from many other possible flaws."

Remain authentic – but conform enough

The authors discuss the balance between the leader adapting to the organisation that he has joined and the need to achieve change within that organisation.

“The crucial word here is adapt. Leaders must conform enough if they are to make the connections necessary to deliver change. Leaders who succeed in changing organisations challenge the norms – but rarely all of them, all at once. They do not seek out instant head-on confrontation without understanding the organisational context. Indeed, survival (particularly in the early days) requires measured adaptation to an ongoing, established set of social relationships and organisational networks. To change an organisation, the leader must first gain at least minimal acceptance as a member – and the rules for early survival are rarely the same as the rules for longer-term success.

Reading organisations

Over the last two decades, there have been countless examples of CEOs who rode roughshod over organisational contexts. Sometimes they have reaped short-term gains. But in the long term, ignoring the organisational context is not an option. Sustainable change requires that the leader understand and tune in to the organisational context. Having done so, the leader can instigate change with credibility and with a greater chance of success. Ignore it and the results can be disastrous. Think of Al Dunlap, or the host of ruthless downsizers and asset strippers who conspicuously failed to deliver long-term change.

When Michael Ovitz joined Disney, for instance, he seemed to get this badly wrong. His colleague Michael Eisner claimed:

He started to rub people the wrong way. He was controversial and it got worse as things went on… We’d all take a bus (at the corporate retreat) and he had a limousine; a special driver. Everyone had a walkie-talkie and you heard walkie-talkies around this 30,000 acres saying, “Who was this guy and why was he demanding this?” The perception was that Michael Ovitz was a little elitist for the egalitarian Walt Disney World in Florida. It was a bad vibe, let’s put it that way.

Ovitz lasted 14 months."

Manage social distance

In this chapter the authors discuss the need for the leader to be close to his followers but not too close.

"Some are more distant than others

All leaders possess an inbuilt, maybe hardwired, preference for either closeness or distance.

The French leader Charles de Gaulle exemplified distance. De Gaulle believed that a leader can have no authority without prestige, nor prestige unless he keeps his distance. Former US President Richard Nixon wrote of him, “Whenever I met de Gaulle, whether publicly or privately, he displayed an enormous, even stately, dignity. His resolute bearing gave him an air of aloofness… He had a certain ease of manner when dealing with another head of state, whom he considered an equal, but he was never informal, even with his closest friends."

To maintain his mystique, de Gaulle avoided friendship with his colleagues. The most informal address he allowed was Mon Général. He is said to have transferred his personal staff after a certain period to avoid familiarity. He was polite at diplomatic functions, but kept his emotional warmth for the privacy of his family.

The authors also give the example of a leader who perhaps kept too much distance.

Mind the gap

John Birt, Greg Dyke’s predecessor as director general of the BBC, also had a predisposition to distance. This gave him the perspective to recognise that the competitive terrain for broadcasting was changing. But he also found closeness difficult. He quickly lost touch with the BBC’s own creative talent and became increasingly reliant on external advisers. Birt was widely seen as aloof, unable to communicate with people about their work. On dutiful visits to BBC operations, Birt dressed in an Armani suit and spoke only to the department head.

When Bert announced a radical reorganisation of the BBC, it came as a complete surprise to everyone in the organisation except the Board of Directors, the McKinsey advisers who created the plan, and the personnel director who handled the McKinsey budget. There was an internal rebellion against the plan, but outsiders generally agreed that the reorganisation would help prepare the BBC for a changing world.

The default mode toward distance made it hard for him to connect with a wider cadre of managers and created at the BBC. He could not find a milieu in which to practice disclosure – to make his real leadership assets work beyond the small group with whom he had established, often rather painfully, social closeness.

What makes this case of wider significance is that introverts are overrepresented at the top of organisations, and many of them find establishing closeness difficult. Introverts need time to establish closeness and reveal difference – and time is in short supply. The trouble is that much that has been written about leadership behaviour plays to the predispositions of the extrovert. We Need a “Leadership Guide for the Introvert.”

Communicate – with care

The authors stress that what you communicate and how you communicate is as important as what you say.

“Communication is personal. While face-to-face communication will always be important for leaders, it is also necessary for them to consider how to connect directly and effectively with larger audiences. When John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in the United Kingdom, he was widely expected to lose the first election that he fought. At the beginning of the campaign, he delivered a series of set-piece speeches from big platforms complete with glass autocue. The reception was underwhelming. The setting did not complement his understated, modest style. Halfway through the campaign, he changed tack. He began a series of street corner speeches delivered impromptu from a makeshift stand – his soapbox – with a handheld microphone. The setting captured his “ordinary man in the street” style far more effectively. The speeches were captured on all the major TV channels and duly broadcast to 30 million voters. He won the election. Many commentators saw this presentational shift as the key turning point in the campaign. Suddenly, Major began to connect with people.”

Authentic followership

The authors also discuss followers and their requirements.

“Followers are the other side of the leadership equation. Without them, there is no relationship and no leadership. If leadership is a dynamic relationship, and the appropriate balance of closeness and distance keeps changing to fit new circumstances, it is logical that followers, too, live in the same dynamic relationship, but see things from a different perspective.

If the leaders get the balance right, followers feel comfortable. They are glad to be close to their leader; they feel that their individuality is recognised and that they are part of a team. The leader has shown enough of himself that the followers know he is not perfect, and that has two results. First, it gives them permission to be less than perfect as well. Second, it tell them that the leader needs the contribution they can make to the team.

At the same time, the leader’s distance shows the follower that this person is not afraid to make tough decisions and be unpopular.”

The authors point out that the first requirement of followers from their leaders is a demand for authenticity. They also need recognition or "significance".


Second, followers need to feel significant. In simple terms, they need recognition for their contribution. Social psychologists have made repeated pronouncements on this profound human need for recognition. So it is remarkable how often as individuals we seem to want it but not give it. The result is a recognition deficit. Why is this? There are many explanations. Some executives just seem to be too busy. It simply doesn’t come high enough in their day-to-day priorities. They mistake activity for effectiveness. These are the people who save up their recognition – good and bad – for the annual appraisal.

Others seem temperamentally unsuited to giving the kind of personalised feedback that is essential to skillful recognition. Don’t forget the disproportionate number of introverts who find their way into leadership roles at the top of hierarchies. Of course, introverts can make others feel important – but it tends to take a lot more effort. In yet other cases, the problems appear to be cultural. The British, for example, are often uncomfortable both giving and receiving praise. There are also some particularly aggressive corporate cultures where the imperative is to “just do it.” Recognition is for wimps.

All our experience is that effective leaders find ways to break through these barriers. Martin Sorrell may be a tough, finance-driven leader, but it does not prevent him from taking the time to carefully, swiftly, and personally respond to emails from colleagues around the world.

Evaluating your leadership potential

This chapter helps you assess your leadership potential with a number of questions (listed below) which are expanded upon in the text with appropriate explanations and cross-references.

  1. "Which personal differences could form the basis of your leadership capability?
  2. Which personal weaknesses do you reveal to those you are leading?
  3. Are you able to read different contexts?
  4. Do you conform enough?
  5. How well do you manage social distance?
  6. Do you have a good sense of organisational time?
  7. How well do you communicate?"

Concluding comments

This book will help you to think about what leadership means, and what it takes to be a leader. I found it made me reflect upon my own skills, weaknesses and style.

Accordingly I recommend it to anyone who either is in a leadership role now or may be in one in the foreseeable future.

However, readers should not expect a “10 step programme” for leadership. The subject is just too difficult for that kind of prescriptive advice.



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