Professional Jeweler Archive: Follow the Leadership Tips

March 2001


Follow the Leadership Tips

Engaging others to follow you requires four key qualities, says the Harvard Business Review

All good leaders need vision and energy. But to truly inspire others, leaders also need to demonstrate four other qualities. They need to:

  • Selectively reveal their weaknesses. By exposing vulnerability, they reveal their approachability and humanity.
  • Rely heavily on intuition to gauge the appropriate timing and course of their actions. In other words, their ability to collect and interpret information helps them know just when and how to act.
  • Manage with tough empathy. Inspirational leaders empathize passionately – and realistically – with people and care intensely about the work employees do.
  • Reveal their differences, capitalizing on what’s unique about themselves.

According to the Harvard Business Review, a combination of all four traits helps determine whether a manager captures the hearts, minds and souls of employees.

Reveal Your Weaknesses

Employees tend to trust leaders who can admit to personal flaws, say authors Robert Goffee, a professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School, and Gareth Jones, director of human resources at British Broadcasting Corp. “If executives try to communicate that they’re perfect at everything, there will be no need for anyone to help them with anything,” write Goffee and Jones.

England’s Princess Diana, for example, spoke publicly about her eating disorder, but the admission didn’t hurt her image – it enhanced it. Like other celebrities, she knew that offering up a weakness gives others something to talk about so they don’t discern – or invent – something worse.

However, wise leaders reveal weaknesses selectively. A finance director, for example, shouldn’t admit he doesn’t understand discounted cash flow.

Rely on Intuition

Inspirational leaders have a knack for sensing what’s going on without having to be told, gauging unexpressed feelings and judging which relationships are working. Roche CEO Franz Humer developed this skill in his 20s as a tour guide. “There was no salary, only tips,” he says. “Pretty soon, I could predict within 10% how much I could earn from any particular group.”

But be careful of your own attitudes because some employees have the same skill for sensing. A worker who sees a distracted boss may leap to the conclusion she will be fired. Always test your senses against reality, perhaps by soliciting feedback from a trusted adviser.

Practice Tough Empathy

Thanks to a lot of human resource-driven seminars, concern about employees has become a cliché. Nevertheless, it’s an important trait; just be careful not to make caring the soft, weepy sort of characteristic employees may say they want. Instead, give the tough understanding they need. Organizations such as the U.S. Marines specialize in this – recruits are pushed to be the best they can be.

When a Unilever laundry detergent was found to damage clothes, CEO Niall FitzGerald initially stood by his staff. “That was the popular place to be, but I should not have been there,” he said later. “I should have stood back, cool and detached, looked at the whole field, watched out for the customer.”

Tough empathy balances respect for the individual and for the task at hand. But it’s not easy to exercise because it involves giving selflessly and knowing when to pull back. Nevertheless, it shows you care about something. Employees are more likely to be inspired by a leader who communicates authenticity than one who’s playing a role.

Being Different

Some leaders use physical appearance to set themselves apart. Sir John Harvey-Jones, former CEO of ICI, an industrial specialty products manufacturer in Great Britain, developed a persona with a mustache, long hair and loud tie to help communicate he is adventurous, entrepreneurial and unique. Richard Surface, former managing director of U.K.-based Pearl Insurance, always walked quickly, communicating a sense of urgency to everyone he passed in the office.

Other differences can be equally powerful. David Prosser, CEO of Legal & General, a large European insurer, recently used the hard edge acquired from his blue-collar background to distinguish himself from smoother, more urbane underlings. When a sales manager loudly praised the company’s success at cross-selling products, the low-voiced Prosser interrupted, “We may be good, but we’re not good enough.”

The message: Don’t relax. I’m the leader and I determine when the company is successful. Leadership is not a popularity contest.

– Mark E. Dixon

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications