This is my summary and analysis of an article written by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones that appeared in Harvard Business Review (September-October, 2000)
Goffee and Jones assert that no-one can just copy another leader’s style and expect to be successful. The challenge for leaders is for them ‘to be themselves, but with more skill.’ They believe that this can be done being aware of the four leadership qualities that they describe and by manipulating them into a personal style that works for you.
The writers agree that vision, energy, authority and strategic direction are important but they purport to have discovered that inspirational leaders share four unexpected qualities. You may find yourself in a top position without these qualities, but the writers claim that few people will want to be led by you. An analysis of each of those qualities in the context of the Kouzes and Posner’s Characteristics of Admired Leaders follows below.
Inspirational leaders selectively show their weaknesses.
The writers claim that exposing a weakness establishes trust and helps get people on board. The number one characteristic of admired leaders according to Kouzes and Posner is honesty. Exposing a weakness is a significant show of honesty.
It also builds solidarity between followers and leaders. The story the writers used to underscore this point revolved around a leader that showed courage in giving a major presentation despite a medical condition that caused him to shake uncontrollably. Courageous appears on Kouzes and Posner’s list at number 13 as does Inspiring (number 4) – the presentation ended with a standing ovation.
Interestingly, the writers note that revealing a weakness can offer you protection as a leader in that it is an alternative to people making a weakness up for you. It can also divert attention from a major weakness. However, a leader must be careful to be selective in the weaknesses that they show (even revealing a weakness that many would consider a strength). The weakness cannot be a ‘fatal flaw’ that undermines important aspects of your professional role and the weakness or vulnerability must be perceived as genuine or he or she will not gain anyone’s support this way.
Inspirational leaders rely heavily on intuition to gauge the appropriate timing and course of their actions.
Goffee and Jones call them good situation sensors – they can collect and interpret soft data like signals in the environment to sense what is going without anyone telling them. They can gauge unexpressed feelings and can very accurately judge whether relationships are working or not. The process is complex and requires great emotional intelligence. Intelligence is number 5 on Kouzes and Posner’s list. However, oversensitivity in a leader can lead to inaccurate perceptions. Therefore it is important for even the most gifted sensor to check his or her perceptions with a trusted advisor or colleague.
Inspirational leaders manage employees with ‘tough empathy.’
According to Goffee and Jones, real leaders empathize fiercely with the people that they lead and they care intensely about the work that their employees do. Supportive (number 9), Caring (number 15) and Loyal (number 16) are all on Kouzes and Posner’s list. But this is not the ‘soft kind’ of empathy. Goffee and Jones feel that real leaders manage through ‘tough empathy’ – giving people what they need, not what they want. It means being honest (number 1 on Kouzes and Posner’s list) and straightforward (number 10) with those that you are leading. Those more apt to using ‘tough empathy’ are those who really care about something. When people really care, they are more likely to show their true selves – thereby showing honesty.
Inspirational Leaders reveal their differences.
Goffee and Jones mean that inspirational leaders signal their differences to keep a social distance. This maybe through dress but typically he or she will seek to distinguish themselves through qualities like those that appear on Kouzes and Posner’s list. This separateness is designed to motivate others to perform better but a leader must be very careful not to lose contact with his or her followers. It is fatal if they do.