‘People like me’ is a category on its own right in the Edelman Trust Barometer. Multiple sets of data point to this category being the highest source of trust inside the organization.
Translation: my mates, my colleagues, my peers, people who share with me similar worries about life, kids or football. Also, ‘one of us’. Call it as you want. It may or may not include the so-called friends in facebook.
I am talking about this transversal, horizontal tribe, or tribes, I belong to, which have more credibility than official authorities. I play with this in my 2011 book ‘Homo Imitans’ where I said it was ‘youth to youth, granny to granny’.
This horizontality of trust clashes with the verticality of our leadership.
- You can send 5 social workers to help a dysfunctional family, or enlist an ex-dysfunctional family to fix the problem. Ex-dysfunctional 5, social workers nil.
- You can preach and send messages from middle to old age priests, rabbis or imams to disengaged, disenfranchised youth, or you can engage people of the same age, positive youth, youth to youth. Young activists 5, clerics nil.
- You can bombard people in the organization, top down from the hierarchical system with calls to something ( safety, accountability, execution) or you can craft and nurture peer-to-peer networks. Peer to peer networks 5, top down nil.
The world is horizontal. We think vertical.
The implications for leadership are enormous. ‘Looking sideways’ has a stronger traction than ‘looking up’. I always, always, always get push pack on this, saying I ignore the very hierarchical social systems of the world, where people look up for approval. All those patriarchal and caste-based systems, all those behavioural tapestries in which nothing is supposed to move unless approved by the authorities, elders, seniors and the rest. And that may be true. People look up in those systems. But how they respond, is much influenced by their looking sideways, how other peers react, what ‘people like them’ do. If compliance is the norm, they will comply. If rebellion is, chances are they will rebel as well. Don’t underestimate the ‘looking sideways’ power.
This my PhD in psychology in one line. People behave the way they do for three reasons: (1) because they are told to; (2) because they want to, or (3) because other people like them do.
The entire traditional management system has been crafted around (1): telling people. The entire motivational/employee engagement system has been crafted around trying to make people behave on (2) mode: make people want. In the process, people have forgotten (3): others do.
And this is the best kept leadership secret/gem in front of us.