Leadership cannot be faked, say Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. All the self-help books in the world won’t make you a leader – but there are four characteristics you must have.
Each leader is unique and it is that difference that others follow. There is no golden rule for top managers but the best have some traits in common. There is one question guaranteed to bring a stunned silence to the boardroom or business school lecture theatre: “Why should anyone be led by you?”
In this age of empowerment, it is difficult to do anything in organisations without followers – and they are becoming harder to find. Increasingly, executives need to know more that just how to manage; they need to understand what it takes to lead effectively – to inspire and win commitment.
Most executives admit they need help with this issue. If anything, though, there is too much advice. Bookshops are full of self-help manuals, autobiographical accounts and recipes for success, leading many to believe that replicating someone else’s style will make leadership easy.
Nothing could be further from the truth; leadership has much more to do with personal authenticity than an easily learned formula. The real challenge for aspiring leaders is to be true to themselves, not to emulate the habits of some other leader. For some, of course, this means recognising that they have certain fundamental flaws that will always limit their leadership capability. Without doubt the final truth about leadership will never be written. However, there seems to be agreement that leaders need energy, a strong sense of direction and a clear vision. Our work suggests that the most effective leaders also share four rather unexpected characteristics.
The first of these is that leaders reveal their weakness. But let us be clear what this means. We are not encouraging new finance directors to admit that they have problems with discounted cash-flow analysis; or operations directors to confess a limited understanding of supply chain management. Weaknesses like these are so central that they would constitute a fatal flaw.