Why Should Anyone Be Led by You

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ARTICLE
www.hbr.org

Why Should Anyone
Be Led by You?
by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones

Included with this full-text Harvard Business Review article: 1 Article Summary
The Idea in Brief—the core idea
The Idea in Practice—putting the idea to work
2 Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?
10 Further Reading
A list of related materials, with annotations to guide further exploration of the article’s ideas and applications

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Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?

The Idea in Brief

The Idea in Practice

The question “Why should anyone be led
by you?” strikes fear in the hearts of most
executives. With good reason. You can’t get
anything done without followers, and in
these “empowered” times, followers are
hard to find—except by leaders who excel
at capturing people’s hearts, minds, and
spirits.

REVEAL YOUR WEAKNESSES
Nobody wants to work with a perfect
leader—he doesn’t appear to need help. So
show you’re human—warts and all. You’ll
build collaboration and solidarity between
you and your followers, and underscore your
approachability.
Tips:

How do you do that? Of course, you need
vision, energy, authority, and strategic direction—and these four additional qualities: • Show you’re human, selectively revealing
weaknesses.
• Be a “sensor,” collecting soft people data
that lets you rely on intuition.
• Manage employees with “tough empathy.” Care passionately about them and their work, while giving them only what
they need to achieve their best.

COPYRIGHT © 2001 HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL PUBLISHING CORPORATION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

• Dare to be different, capitalizing on your
uniqueness.
Mix and match these qualities to find the
right style for the right moment.
Without all four qualities, you might climb
to the top. But few people will want to follow you, and your company won’t achieve its best results.

• Don’t expose a weakness that others see as
fatal. (A new finance director shouldn’t reveal his ignorance of discounted cash flow!) Choose a tangential weakness instead.
• Pick a flaw that others consider a strength,
e.g., workaholism.
BECOME A SENSOR
Hone your ability to collect and interpret subtle interpersonal cues, detecting what’s going on without others’ spelling it out.

staff. Though many employees lost jobs,
Dyke kept people’s commitment.
DARE TO BE DIFFERENT
Capitalizing on what’s unique about yourself
lets you signal your separateness as a leader,
and motivates others to perform better. Followers push themselves more if their leader is just a little aloof.
Tips:
• Don’t overdifferentiate yourself—you could
lose contact with followers. Robert Horton,
former CEO of British Petroleum, conspicuously displayed his formidable intelligence. Followers saw him as arrogant, and detached themselves from him. He was dismissed after three years. • Distinguish yourself through qualities like

imagination, expertise, and adventuresomeness.

Example:
Franz Humer, highly successful CEO of
Roche, a health-care research company,
senses underlying currents of opinion,
gauges unexpressed feelings, and accurately judges relationships’ quality. Tip:
• Test your perceptions: Validate them with a
trusted advisor or inner-team member.
PRACTICE TOUGH EMPATHY
Real leaders empathize fiercely with their followers and care intensely about their people’s work. They’re also empathetically “tough.” This
means giving people not necessarily what
they want, but what they need to achieve their
best.
Example:
BBC CEO Greg Dyke knew that to survive in
a digital world, the company had to spend
more on programs and less on people. He
restructured the organization, but only after
explaining this openly and directly to the

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