Emmanuel Gobillot: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Gobillot, Emmanuel“There must be a better way.”

That’s the motto Emmanuel Gobillot has adopted toward everything he does. As one of the world’s most popular speakers, consultants, and thought-leaders, he believes there is a better way to lead, relate to customers, and engage an organisation’s creativity, passion, and drive. The author of three bestselling books: The Connected Leader, Leadershift, and Follow the Leader, Gobillot gives audiences the tools to see inside their organisations in order to find a better way.

Prior to setting up his boutique consulting business Gobillot worked at the Hay Group, where he was head of consumer sector consulting and director of leadership services. He has worked with various organisations to develop their senior executive capability and to improve efficiency and return.

In The Connected Leader: Creating Agile Organisations for People, Performance and Profits, published by KoganPage, Gobillot redefines both leadership and our idea of what an organisation is, proposing a new focus and new tools to make organisations more agile. Leadershift makes the case that critical demographic and technological trends are coming together to challenge the very essence of what it means to be in business. In his subsequent book, Follow the Leader: The One Thing Great Leaders Have that Great Followers Want, also published by KoganPage, he explains why he thinks that the “one great thing” is charisma. and creates a frame of reference within which he anchors that belief for discussion of what continues to be a controversial subject: the importance of charisma. Opinions are divided, sometimes sharply divided, about that. My own opinion is that, like an expensive fragrance, charisma smells good but we shouldn’t drink it.

Gobillot holds an International Baccalaureate from the United World College of the Atlantic, a Masters of Arts with honours from St. Andrews University, and a Diploma in Management Science from the Nottingham Trent University.

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Morris: When and why did you decide to write The Connected Leader?

Gobillot: Whilst I would not necessarily want to describe the book as being as amazing as a pearl. I like to think I wrote it for the same reason an oyster makes a pearl: out of sheer irritation. I was tired of living in an either/or bipolar world where everything was always at either end of a spectrum (either structure or culture, either soft or hard, either leadership or management, either big or small etc). I was given a lot of latitude in my work at HayGroup to explore ideas and try to solve issues for clients so I decided to focus on trying to reconcile some of those issues.

In my consulting practice I was always struck by the idea that when we talked about organisations we always actually talked about broadly two distinct entities, one being the structures, processes and hierarchies which need to be optimised and the other, the social networks that form the culture of the organisations that needed to be shaped. I have come to call them the formal and the real organisations and like to think of the latter as the company (for the Latin root of the word which means “breaking bread together”).

My idea was that we were fundamentally misguided as leaders by trying to work on those two at different times and in different ways. Rather, to get the most out of the organisation we need to reconnect the company to the organisation. The formal organisation is critical but is also dead; it is a critical process but only a process. To succeed we must channel the energy of the real organisation to the delivery of the formal objectives. This led me to think about the steps necessary to do this.

Having spoken to a number of people about this over the years I was encouraged to share the ideas first on stage which led many to ask for articles and eventually a book. The thing about our work is that we don’t actually make anything and I always saw books as the closest to a product we consultants can have. I love books and the craft of writing so I didn’t hesitate long to give it a go.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ [begin italics] significantly [end significantly] from what you originally envisioned?

Gobillot: That’s a great question because, it being my first book, I had no idea what the editing process would entail and bar some grammatical changes I did expect the book to remain mainly unchanged. In fact, the end product is different in two ways. First from a content perspective the book has benefited from challenges from a number of people and is a lot clearer and more practical as a result. As much as I love words and rhetoric I needed a lot of help getting rid of superfluous alliterations so the ideas would speak more clearly to the reader. But as well as content the book changed dramatically in terms of form. I had not at first envisaged the diagnostic instruments that ended up in the final version nor did I start the early drafts with recaps, summaries and short, titled paragraphs. These all emerged as part of the editing process, and, given how keen reviewers seemed to have been on the use of those devices I have adopted them in different form ever since.

Morris: As I indicate in my review of the book for various Amazon websites, there are dozens of passages throughout your narrative that caught my eye.

For those who have not as yet read the book, please suggest what you view as the most important point or key take-away in each of these passages. First, The Connected Leadership Concept (Pages 5-6)

Gobillot: Spend your time thinking how do I reconnect the energy of my followers to the delivery of the formal objective rather than how do I optimise the structures I operate under or try to create motivation in others. People are always motivated, your role is to find and channel that motivation.

Morris: What Are the New Rules of Engagement? (20-26)

Gobillot: We are in a world where the boundaries between personal and social have become blurred and harder to define. Whilst a child would either play a game on their own or go out and meet friends they can now do both of these things at the same time. We have learnt a new way of being “alone together and together alone” which has fundamental implications for the way we think of our organisations.

Morris: How Do Organizations and Individuals Become Disconnected? (32-43)

Gobillot: Whilst organisations rely on roles, rules and economic incentives to work, relationships operate with individuals, reciprocity and social and moral obligations as their guiding principles. The problem is that not only can both be at odds with each other but often they will contradict each other.

Morris: What Does an Organization Designed for Engagement Look Like? (43-48)

Gobillot: An organisation designed for engagement recognises the value of the social networks that both help individuals self-actualise and provides the oil that makes the formal organisation work. It strives to connect the two together by engineering meaning rather than processes.

Morris: What Do Leaders Do? (64-69)

Gobillot: Connected leaders recognise that their role is to make others feel stronger and more capable.

Morris: What Impact Do Leaders Create? (69-77)

Gobillot: Your credibility with others relies on recognising five key elements of effective impact. The first three make you important to follow – utility (there is value for me in the relationship), reciprocity (you see me as also bringing value) and integrity (the relationship is safe) whilst the last two make it easy for you to be followed – warmth (the relationship is fun) and maintenance (the relationship is easy to main – a challenge if you have remote teams).

Morris: How do leaders achieve high performance in the “People Economy”? (82-96)

Gobillot: They do so by recognising that the source of their influence is moral (rather than formal) and their impact is best when it is social (i.e. targeted at the social networks of the firm) rather than formal (i.e. hierarchical).

Morris: Leaders come in all sizes, shapes, and flavors. Some great leaders such as Winston Churchill have charisma. Other great leaders such as Harry Truman do not. In your opinion, how important is charisma to effective leadership? Please explain.

Gobillot: This question goes right back to the core reason I wrote Follow the Leader. I am often told that charisma is something people are born with. Having been present at the birth of my two children I can tell you for sure that, if my kids are anything to go by, charismatic is not the word I would have used to describe them then! I am not surprised though that we take that view; the very etymology of the word comes back to the idea that charisma is a gift from the gods.

I was also very well aware that charisma is the one element that people always come back to when asked to describe the leaders they admire. So I quickly came to the conclusion that charisma was indeed a gift. However far from being one that was given by the gods or by nature, it was one bestowed upon leaders by followers themselves. Therefore my search with Follow the Leader was to decompose what they meant.

The psychology of followership is fascinating and I wish more were done to study and write about it to redress the balance from our overly leader-centric approach to development. What you find when you look at how people choose their leaders is that people consider (partly consciously and partly subconsciously – hence my term emotional logic) three broad areas:

o Do they get me? Are the my kind of people? (Would I share a beer with them? as you would say in the US)
o Will they do right by the values they represent?
o Can they actually deliver, make things happen?

As an aside I also realise that few followers actually do choose their leaders in organisations, but do not let this give you a sense of comfort as whilst they may not have a say on who leads them, they certainly still have the ownership of the crucial decision of whether or not to allocate their discretionary effort to the cause that leader proposes. Countless studies will show you that the ability to release discretionary effort is a key differentiator between good and great leaders.

Once you know those three “tests of followership” which I call the value, the character and the achievement dimensions, you can start to look for the kind of evidence followers look for in a leader. In Follow the Leader I use the acronym CHARISMA to describe those 8 attributes.

The first two talk to the value dimension and are Compassion and Hope. Do they understand how it is to be me and are they willing to change my situation by offering me a reason to hope?

The second four talk to the Character dimension by laying out the ultimate test of will they act by those values when push comes to shove. They are – Asperity (depth of character), Rhetoric (compelling articulation of a vision), Integrity (alignment and thoughts, speech and deeds) and Simplicity (the ability to bring coherence to issues)

The final two talk to the achievement dimension and are Measurement and Action. Are they clear on the milestones we will have to go through to get to the other side and have they articulated some of the actions we will need to take.

The reason I used the acronym charisma is that, without fail, anyone who meets those tests is described as having charisma. I recognise this is not everyone’s definition but it accounts for the fact that whilst they come in all shapes and sizes, different leaders can still be seen as charismatic. It may be a quiet rather than a loud or an individual rather than a social, or a Bill Gates’ rather than a Steve Job’s charisma but it is still charisma nevertheless.

Once you define charisma as the gift from followers (which in politics they give by way of votes) it becomes both easier to actually define charisma and, perhaps more importantly for my purpose, to start developing it by channeling who you are in different ways.

Morris: To what extent (if any) is charisma “in the eyes of the beholder”? Please explain.

Gobillot: It is fully in the eye of the beholder insofar as it is followers who define charisma. It is also however remarkably consistent if defined as per my previous answer.

Morris: Throughout my life thus far, I have been introduced to a number of people who seemed to have a commanding, indeed compelling presence. My initial reaction was, “This person is very special.” How do you explain that?

Gobillot: It is interesting how so many different words carry similar connotations and tend to be used interchangeably when we are at a loss to explain what we are encountering. I think there are two things at play when we experience (and I have experienced this too) the feeling you describe.

I think it is both a matter of charisma and presence and whilst presence is often at play in charisma it doesn’t have to be (i.e. we can encounter charismatic leaders and not have this feeling or we can meet people with presence who do not always have charisma).

First we have to reacquaint ourselves with the simple and much forgotten facts that we are more than our brains. The stimuli we receive are multi sensory so to an extent trying to explain everything we feel solely on the basis of rational analysis can be reductive. Often I will be at a conference and witness people in awe of a speaker and describing her as charismatic. They will then meet that same speaker at dinner and the feeling will disappear. This what I call presence. Maybe because the speaker was on stage going through a well-rehearsed presentation and sharing inspirational ideas we attributed to her a kind of aura that she could not live up to at dinner.

I have also witnessed people who have, by all manner of metrics, been terrible in front of groups but who, on a one to one basis, arouse the emotions you are talking about.

Whilst those two elements are different, what they do share is the fact that they are both attributed by followers and both are borne out of the ability of someone to make us feel stronger and more capable.

Morris: In your opinion, how best to determine if a person who is very charismatic is also worthy of respect and trust?

Gobillot: This is a hard question to answer as it speaks of the moral relativity of leadership. Clearly, history is full of toxic leaders getting large numbers of followers to work on their behalf even when, in time, we come to see their leadership as being morally repugnant. Leadership is a function of its time and socio economic environment.

If we define charisma as the ability to make us feel stronger as followers then the key question for any follower to ask herself is “does this make me stronger at the expense of others and if yes then how can it be right?”.

Morris: Of all the great leaders throughout history, with which one would you most want to share an evening of conversation if it were possible? Why?

Gobillot: I would have to say Francois Mitterand who presided over France. First because he was a student of leadership and history so I am sure he would have a perspective on all the ones I would like to meet but can’t because you asked me to choose one! Secondly because he came to power when I was growing up in France on a wave of hope and enthusiasm as well as a feeling of dread on the part of those who feared a socialist president. The reason I would like to meet with him is because having now grown older and aware of his history and legacy I would like to step through the looking glass and understand what he set out to do and how he thought about doing it so I would get the mechanics of leadership having a deep understanding about the outcome of followership as I experienced them.

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read both of your books and is now determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which there is effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of operation. In your opinion, where to begin?

Gobillot: Start with yourself and then the people around you.

There is a sense of relief in doing something on a grand scale. There is something comforting in the big events and big posters that trumpet the arrival of a new culture. Without foundations however the impact of those things is short lived.

The foundations are built on you being the embodiment of the culture you want to see. Seek honest feedback as to whether you are what you want to be. Then your best bet is to grow the leaders alongside you who will demonstrate your intent and share in your desire to build the company you want to build.

Structures, mechanisms, models and processes can all follow but without your team being the embodiment of the culture you seek, little will be done.

One tip I would give is make sure that as much time in your team meetings is devoted to working on the business, as you have devoted to working in the business. We spend too much time in my experience in senior teams determining what we need to do to fix or optimise operations without stepping back and thinking about why we get in those situations and how to build a business that doesn’t have those issues.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in the two books, The Connected Leader and Follow the Leader, which do you think will be of greatest value to owner/CEOs of small companies? Please explain.

Gobillot: I guess my publisher would like me to say both, but I am inclined to say it depends.

In The Connected Leader I do claim that all organisations start life as a purpose in search of assets and that, at some stage in their evolution, they flip to become one big asset in search of purpose. My aim with the book was to try to either help large corporates regain the sense of purpose that drives the engagement of their people or help small businesses maintain that sense as they grow.

Follow the Leader on the other hand has a role to play in helping leaders of small businesses think through what they need to do to attract the followers they need. In that way it is more of a personal rather than a business development book.

I also know from experience that many won’t have the time to read both, never mind one, so I would always advise getting maybe a good summary of both (I would count your reviews as necessary reading!) and then make up their mind as to which one they may find more useful. I am always happy for anyone to drop me an email with their situation and I would be delighted to point them in the best direction. I always make the promise that this is not a sales ploy but a genuine offer of help!

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Gobillot: I have done quite a few interviews in my time but never one that has got me to think so deeply as this one about the roots of my ideas and the reasons I do what I do. It has been a real pleasure answering your questions. And if I had one wish regarding things I could ask it would be to ask what your answers to all your questions would be! Thank you so much for doing what you do in the way you do it and for your kindness in challenging our thinking and helping ideas travel.

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To read Part 1, please click here.

Emmanuel cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

His Amazon link

Here’s a link to a video of his presentation to the HayGroup

Here’s another link to a video of his presentation at Google.

Twitter link

This link is to a more recent program during which he discusses some of the early thoughts that are going into his next book.

A link to a meeting for entrepreneurs of growing businesses

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