This is an important question for leaders, and one that Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones attempt to answer in this book which is largely based on their work with firms and leaders in many different spheres. They argue that effective leadership requires a strong does of authenticity in how leaders interact with their teams; “know yourself and show yourself”. Even though it was originally published before 2008. the book became even more popular during those years, possibly because it endured the financial crisis, which led firms to re-examine their models of leadership.
Through their research they have observed a rhythm in organisations with effective leadership; “That rhythm is: observe, understand, adapt and rewrite.” Effective, personal and leader-led communication not only constructs a “compelling narrative” but through humour and storytelling can also break down silos and put teams at ease.
The authors caution against “recipe leadership”
My own research has identified leadership and management as key factors that affect the environments of Agile software engineering teams. I found a lot of resonance between the Agile Manifesto’s “safe environment” and the world of the authentic and highly self-aware leader this book portrays. The authors caution against “recipe leadership” – there is no template for leading, no magic formula but there are basic principles that can be applied and adapted.
One of the leaders they profile is Greg Dyke who led the BBC through particularly turbulent times and achieved a lot during his four years as CEO. When he was eventually forced out, BBC employees lined the streets in protest; he had made management human again, he had brought the best out of his 25,000 employees mainly by being himself. School headmaster John Latham is an exceptional leader who achieves the same by remembering birthdays, recognizing individual talents, picking up litter and taking the time for handwritten notes to his staff.
The authors do acknowledge this “price of leadership” – too much authenticity and vulnerability with your team can lead to a downfall. Dyke invested heavily in relationships with his employees who welcomed his changes but he neglected the more traditional governing body that ultimately forced him out. I’ve written previously about how leaders sometimes don’t request tough feedback, and neglecting his senior stakeholders was a fatal blind spot for Dyke.
He had achieved the prize of leadership
While this is the danger of true leadership, Goffee and Jones encourage leaders with the many benefits, “the prize of leadership” and especially leadership with purpose. They recount the retirement party of a senior partner in a local community medical practice – hundreds of his patients attended to wish him well and acknowledge his purposeful, effective and authentic leadership. He had achieved the prize of leadership and reflected it to those he led and cared for in a lifetime of service to his community.
More than ever, teams in the workplace need the kind of leadership described and deconstructed in this book; it’s the secret sauce that makes the whole bigger than the sum of the parts. For leaders looking to achieve breakthrough results with their teams they must start with an honest and introspective question; “Why should anyone be led by you?” Then pick up this book.