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The real thing - an interview with Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones

The academic study of leadership has reached industrial proportions. Leadership is held up to the light and viewed from a bewildering ...

By Stuart Crainer . 01 September 2005

The academic study of leadership has reached industrial proportions. Leadership is held up to the light and viewed from a bewildering array of angles.
The real thing  an interview with Rob Goffee and Gareth JonesThe trouble is that for all the intellectual endeavour, little original insight is usually added to the leadership debate. Mystification regularly outweighs clarification. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones offer a persuasive counter. As they tell Stuart Crainer, their work returns to the leadership essentials and is firmly rooted in their academic origins as sociologists.


Rob Goffee, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, and Gareth Jones, first brought their original slant on the business world to a broader audience with their 1998 bestseller, The Character of a Corporation. While this book focused on corporate culture – its closest intellectual antecedent is Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s Men and Women of the Corporation – in the years since Goffee and Jones have focused their attentions on leadership and innovation.

Their research is resolutely based in the reality of leadership rather than in the leader-as-hero genre. Jones was director of human resources and internal communications at the BBC and a senior vice president at Polygram, as well as holding a series of academic positions.

Goffee and Jones won the McKinsey Award for their Harvard Business Review article, “Why should anyone be led by you?” Their latest book on leadership will be published by Harvard Business School Press in 2006. “The question – Why should anyone be led by you? – had an impact. Audiences paused for thought when they were asked it. Over the last five years, that question has taken us in intriguing, exciting, and often perplexing directions,” reflected Rob Goffee when Stuart Crainer recently interviewed he and his co-author at their offices.

Your roots lie in sociology. How did you come to be diverted by leadership?

Gareth Jones: We have always been interested in real people doing real jobs. For our new book, we interviewed a cross section of people. They included a hospital nurse, a Zimbabwean soldier, a head teacher, a round the world yachtsman, and a variety of others – as well as many with people in an array of corporate positions. We like the approach of the great American broadcaster and writer, Studs Terkel. If you engage with people, you learn from them. It doesn’t matter where people exercise leadership, they are still leaders.

And that’s different to the conventional approach. Leadership has tended to be associated with the heroic and the famous, but our work with companies has exposed us to a variety of leaders who excel at inspiring people. That’s what really fascinates us: leaders who succeed in capturing hearts, minds and souls. Rob and I are fascinated by leadership which, reaching back to the ideas of Max Weber, is antibureaucratic and charismatic. To have leaders with these qualities is not everything in business, but we think that it is worth a lot.

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