The X-factor of leadership. Source III: provide social proof.

 This video circulates already some time on leadership seminars and the internet. It beautifully illustrates the force of social proof: to determine what is correct, we find out what other people think is correct. (Cialdini*, 2007). A longer version of the video** shows that before this scene, the dancing guy had already quite a few ‘first followers’, before this one.

We especially use actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves in situations with unclear scripts. It can lead to ‘pluralistic ignorance’: everybody looks at each other and nobody does what should be done. Pluralistic ignorance explains why less people are inclined to help someone in emergency situations when other people are around. Experiments showed e.g. that help for a student having an epileptic seizure dropped from 85 % to 31 % when other people were around. Or reporting smoke in the room dropped from 75 % to 38 % when other people were around who ignored the smoke. We find comfort in other people (and stop thinking for ourselves) when we’re confronted with a difficult situation.

Social proof works also better when the other persons are ‘like us’. Similarity reinforces followership. That’s why lots of commercials include ‘average-joe-testimonials’.  It also explains why ‘peers’ work better to influence behavior. Or why ‘references’ and ‘recommendations’ are so important in professional credibility. “In similarity, we connect…”

Cialdini quotes Cavett Robert in his book: “Since 95 % of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.” Social proof is important in leadership. Leadership does not automatically accept social proof in uncertain situations.  Leadership initiates. And it understands that people follow actions, not words. And that this even works better when similarity comes into play. Leadership establishes a critical mass of early adaptors. The rest will follow.

Any comment?

*CIALDINI, Robert (2007). The psychology of persuasion. New York: HarperCollins publishers, 320 p.


About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 17. Being the example & sensemaking, Academic insights & evidence, English and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The X-factor of leadership. Source III: provide social proof.

  1. @JokeDeblaere who asked me how to apply the X-factor in day to day situations as coaching, team management a.s.o. It’s a relevant question & for me self-awareness is the answer. Influencing is not about ‘manipulating’. It’s not having a hidden agenda and trick someone into something. But being more aware of how we are influenced (and most of the time in a correct way) and how we influence other people gives more personal freedom and therefore choice and added value. But overall: recognizing the importance of ‘giving’ (before taking), ‘providing social proof’ (instead of talking), ‘connecting’ (instead of just being yourself), ‘letting people making choice out of free will’ (instead of forcing them), ‘improve collaboration by defining shared objectives’ (instead of one-on-one mgmt), –> not a bad way to improve your leadership :).

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