Senior executives who quickly and confidently answer the question posed by the title of this book are delusional; leadership is elusive, and few business managers have a firm grasp of why people follow them -- or why they don't.
The authors of "Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? What It Takes To Be an Authentic Leader" (Harvard Business School Press, 2006) have asked this daunting question at leadership seminars over the years. Not surprisingly, few people in the audience usually know the answer. That's dangerous for their organization. "Leadership begins with you, and you will not succeed as a leader unless you have some sense of who you are," they write. "Your colleagues ... have a simple but basic need: They want to be led by a person, not by a corporate apparatchik."
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, British experts in organizational development and behavior, describe a model of effective leadership that readers can use to answer questions about their own skills, but they don't offer any one-size-fits-all formulas. Instead they supply basic principles that are hard to find fault with. One such axiom is that leadership is grounded in authenticity. "Successful leaders are those who behave genuinely rather than pretend to be something they are not," they write. The book pokes holes in the notion that people should emulate successful leaders whom they admire.
At the same time that they are authentic, though, leaders must conform to environmental and business factors. But these outside influences can compromise authenticity. Goffee and Jones attempt to reconcile this conflict by encouraging readers to be "authentic chameleons," consistently displaying their true selves as changes in contexts require them to play a variety of roles. Still, there's a paradox here: How can you really be yourself if you're constantly modifying your own behavior to reflect shifts in the business?
Finding the right balance between authenticity and adaptability is the book's answer, and the authors illustrate their vision of that balance using examples of how real leaders have responded to specific situations. One such executive is Sir Martin Sorrell, who heads up WPP, a giant communications services company that owns the JWT ad agency. Sorrell, they write, achieves the right leadership balance by continuously reminding people that although creativity is central to their business, they are still engaged in business. Anyone who gets a visit from him "can expect some tough, one-to-one questioning -- on the numbers as well as the creative side of the business," Goffee and Jones say.
Readers might have trouble relating to some of the book's examples because of cultural differences. The authors make it clear that what appears authentic in one locale many not appear authentic in another. "Leadership is complicated, and the secrets of great leadership resist simple recipes," they write. Still, Goffee and Jones couldn't resist ending the book with a seven-pronged self-assessment that readers can use to evaluate their leadership potential. This reality checklist helps you personalize the authors' message. After all, before you can be an authentic leader, you have to know who you are.