Why should anyone be led by you?

What ingredients make an effective leader is a question forever asked by individuals and throughout organisations. For the authors of the book Why Should Anyone be led by You?, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones write that great leaders are not just role players or faceless bureaucrats. They are authentic men and women who are confident in who they are and what they stand for.

Following extensive research, their book — published last year by Harvard Business Review Press — provides plenty of insights that employees, CEOs and politicians alike might benefit from.

There are many traits of effective leaders like risk-taking, judging appropriate social distance from others, and communication. The authors claim to have identified three fundamental axioms about leadership. For them, effective leadership is: situational, nonhierarchial, and relational.

Here, I have provided a brief summary of these. “Being yourself, in context, with skills” is considered key to being a successful, authentic leader. I’d recommend giving the book a read.

Situational

Situations influence what is required of a leader, and what might be required at one time and place may not be required later on.

Winston Churchill is an example: a leader who was inspirational in wartime leader but whose “bulldog” style was ill-suited to the re-construction agenda of post-war Britain.

In contrast, Nelson Mandela offered a kind of leadership that was compatible with differing contexts, as a prisoner and President of South Africa.

We are told that there are three elements to effective situation sensing.

Firstly, observational and cognitive skills allow leaders to sense and analyse what’s going on in their organisations or surroundings; if team/group morale is shaky or when complacency needs challenging.

Secondly, using their social skills leaders will adapt to different situations without ever losing their sense of self.

Nelson Mandela

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani immediately tuned in to the context. As a leader he sensed that he needed to be out on the streets with the people.

In comparison, with US President George W. Bush, first seen frozen at a school, although having then been taken out of sight for fears of his safety, he appeared distant and out of touch.

Thirdly, leaders use their own personality and behaviour to change the situation, say from an unhappy one to a happy one.

Nonhierarchical

In so many situations, there is a persistent misconception that people who occupy senior organisational positions are leaders. Being given a particular organisational title — team leader, for instance — may confer some hierarchical authority, but it does not make an individual a leader.

“The best military organisations understand that when they move into action, they simply cannot rely on hierarchy; it may be obliterated when the first motar lands. It is imperative that they develop leadership capacity throughout. And they do.”

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

Relational

Leadership is, essentially, a relationship between leaders and followers. Without followers there would be no leaders.

The authors asked what do followers want, and although their replies included many different things, these could still be categorised under four headings: authenticity, significance, excitement, and community.

Authenticity: Followers want our leaders to show them who they are — to reveal some of their real human differences. “Although difficult to define, we know inauthenticity when we see it.”

Significance: Followers need recognition for their contribution. Some CEOs mistake activity for effectiveness, and save up their recognition — good and bad — for the annual appraisal.

Excitement: Leadership involves exciting others to higher levels of effort and performance. It is more than simply getting things done or carrying on doing today what we did yesterday.

Community: Human beings are hardwired for sociability — they desire solidarity and want to belong.