Getting personal on the topic of leadership

Rob Goffee (Professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, London, UK.)
Gareth Jones (Consultant and visiting professor at Insead.)

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Publication date: 1 June 2006



This article describes how effective leaders become aware of what is different about them that makes them attractive to others, and learn to use these differences to their advantage in a leadership role.


Presents examples of the use of this technique, including Microsoft's Bill Gates, ICI's John Harvey‐Jones, Sony's Akio Morita, Kimberly‐Clark's Darwin E. Smith, and London mayor Ken Livingstone.


Shows that there is an almost endless list of differences that individuals might communicate, but the differences must be authentic to the individual as a leader, and must be significant, real and perceived.

Practical implications

Argues that, in all the examples, leaders are using personal differences that work for them appropriately in context. They convey the right message – and they are real. Ultimately, it is this sense of authentic self‐expression that makes them so convincing.


Demonstrates how John Harvey‐Jones built upon his entrepreneurial pizzazz, Bill Gates his technological “geekiness”, Darwin E. Smith his modesty, and Ken Livingstone's identification with Londoners.



Goffee, R. and Jones, G. (2006), "Getting personal on the topic of leadership", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 32-34.

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Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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