Leadership is social influence. One of the drivers of influence is reciprocity: giving makes people want to give back[i]. We are hard-wired like that, because it’s critical for our society, for living together. The moment we distrust reciprocity, social interaction stops. Reciprocity also explains the success of social media and of the ‘free’ economy. The moment we accept our free copy of a book or free advice, we’re in debt. We will be inclined to return the favor. And if we don’t, we’ll be disliked and cut off the group. Reciprocity is at the heart of business deals, sponsoring and politics.
Reciprocity is an important element of authentic leadership [ii]. It explains the processes whereby leaders establish positive social exchanges with followers. Authentic leaders contribute to the whole by doing individual favors. They don’t start with asking favors. They are at service. The force of reciprocity will make people return the favor and follow.
[i] CIALDINI, Robert (2007). The psychology of persuasion. New York: HarperCollins publishers, 320 p.
[ii] AVOLIO, B. & GARDNER, W.L. (2006), p. 326.