Saturday, March 15, 2008

Professor Rob Goffee on authentic leadership, football and West Ham

Rob Goffee is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School. His books include:

'The Character of a Corporation' published by Harper Business, 1998
'Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? What It Takes to Be an Authentic Leader' with Gareth Jones published by Harvard Business School, 2006.

Last week I caught up with him in Brisbane during his trip to Australia interviewing clever people for his new book. He spoke to me as well.

John: Do you find football leadership to be an opiate or inspiration? And 
how is it reflected in your work?

Rob: ‘More an inspiration. Have a look at our book for discussion on Clough. - (He was) good on many dimensions, differences, weaknesses and social distance. Most of his obituaries talk of him as being seen like an elder brother (closeness) and a sergeant major (distance). He was brilliant at being himself - and a test case of being able to excite some fairly average players to extraordinary levels of performance


John: Professor Goffee argues that Authentic Leaders have the skill to quickly move between being close to their employees to empathize, encourage and motivate them, to being distant so that they can provide critical evaluations when required. They also have to take responsibility for developing and exciting their team.

Professor Goffee makes the point that authentic leaders do not need to be liked. Brian Clough, who took Derby County and Nottingham Forest from the second division to be the best teams in England, and in the case of Forest, to be European Champions, was also a great example of this type of leader. And he was loved by fans for it. Club owners at Derby and Leeds didn’t like him as much.

John: Why do you think David Beckham is an authentic leader?

Rob: ‘I didn’t say this. I did say he is clever in that (he) is a source of disproportionate value: skilled, scarce, well connected etc’

John: Are there many authentic leaders in football? Who comes to mind?

Rob: ‘I am biased but I thought Bobby Moore was pretty good! There are some other very strong characters who are impressive: Ferguson and Wenger.... Mourinho also good - all of these appear able to develop players AND excite them - a rare combination.’

John: What needs to be done in junior football to develop leaders and how 
would this benefit society?

Rob: ‘I feel we just need more of it, I am sure participation in sport is developmental of teamwork and leadership.’

John: You have said the best players don't necessarily make the best team, how does a leader get the best out of his team?

Rob: ‘Mainly role modeling it. In sport I think Moore again, Beckenbauer, Keane.’

John: When I was young, I loved watching Bobby Moore play. And after he retired, I looked forward to his commentary on Jimmy Hill’s Match of the Day. After his death it was disclosed that he had been in remission from cancer while he captained England in the 1966 world cup, a truly courageous effort.

John: Who would you like West Ham led by? What are Lucas Neil's strengths 
and weaknesses?

Rob: ‘Neil has done a good job, he helped to steady the ship with his experience last season. On the field and on the ball he rarely panics it seems to me. But as said yesterday, I am not sure I know enough about him and his previous career.’

John: I am interested in the influence of physical activity on happiness, of sport on the development of young people, and the success of some people who are susceptible to obsession. Professor Goffee provided this insight:

Rob: ‘I do think there are connections with obsessiveness for some high performers. In fact in our new work we are seeing that clever people of many kinds are prone to flip between obsession and indifference.’

Thank you for your time Rob. Enjoy your time in Australia.

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