Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageInspiring?James Alcock/AAP

When people talk about successful leaders they often focus on the personal and physical characteristics of those individuals. Great leaders are tall, good communicators, friendly, decisive, good looking, or have charisma.

However, according to the social identity theory of leadership, the focus should not be on the leaders themselves but on their followers. Successful leaders are only successful if they are perceived like this through the eyes of their followers. If nobody follows the leader, then there is no leadership.

According to this theory, effective leaders are those who can envision a group-oriented vision of the future that their followers can identify with. This is often achieved by (1) prioritising the role of followers as key elements of future collective success, (2) making personal sacrifices for the group, and (3) engaging in the rhetorical use of “we” and “us” to encourage followers to see themselves as implicated in the leader’s vision.

Examples of this are the inspirational slogans used in Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign: “Change we can believe in” and “Yes we can”. These were intended to create an inspiring group-oriented vision of the future that American voters could identify with.

Non-effective leaders on the other hand, are characterised by self-interest, such that the leader focuses on his or her authority and personal role in achieving success. These types of leaders typically appear to be more self-aggrandising, aggressive, and arrogant, and are more inclined to use self-referencing that includes singular pronouns such as “I” and “me".

In support of this theory, a recent study that analysed the Australian election speeches of prime ministerial candidates of the last 43 elections since 1901, found that political leaders who used the words “we” or “us” (rather than “I” or “me”) more than their opponent, won the election 80% of the time.

‘We’ doesn’t include everyone

So should leaders just use the words “we” and “us” as much as possible in their messages with followers and automatically they will be seen as inspirational? Well it is a bit more complicated than that. It turns out a follower has to identify with the group in order for an inspirational message to be seen as inspirational.

According to social identity theory, people strive to create a positive social identity via an “ingroup” that shares similar beliefs, nationality, likes and dislikes. People use their designated ingroup to compare themselves positively against competing “outgroups” that have differing attributes.

Therefore, if an inspirational message comes from a leader that is perceived as an outgroup leader, that message will not be processed in the same way as the same message being presented by an ingroup leader.

In a recent brain imaging study we found support for this view. Participants who were strong Labor or Liberal supporters were presented with inspirational and non-inspirational messages while undergoing functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

The inspirational messages were group-oriented messages in which we used words such as “we” and “us” (e.g. “For any one of us to succeed we must succeed as a nation united”), while the non-inspirational messages were leader-oriented messages in which we used words such as “I” and “me” (e.g. “If my government is to achieve anything I must play a central role”).

We told participants that the messages were made by either Labor or Liberal leaders and they had to rate how inspirational they found the messages. Unbeknown to participants, identical messages were presented as coming from Labor and Liberal leaders across participants. In theory, if objective, participants would rate the messages as equally inspirational, regardless of whether they came from an ingroup or outgroup leader.

The behavioural results showed this was not the case and there was a strong ingroup bias. For example, a Labor supporter rated messages as much more inspirational if he or she believed they were made by a Labor leader. The same was true for Liberal supporters. Interestingly the brain imaging results provided some key insights in explaining why this was the case.

We compared the brain activation in followers watching inspirational messages from the ingroup leader versus non-inspirational messages from the ingroup leader. For ingroup leader messages we found more activation in brain areas involved in processing information such as the inferior parietal lobule, bilateral pars opercularis and posterior midcingulate gyrus (Figure A).

However, when looking at the same comparison (inspirational minus non-inspirational) for messages from out-group leaders, no increase in brain activation was seen in these areas (Figure B).

imageAuthor provided

This is a striking result because remember that the messages were identical for ingroup and outgroup leaders. The inspirational messages from outgroup leaders were ignored (as evidenced by the lack of increase in brain activation), while if people believed the inspirational messages came from an ingroup leader they were processing them much more than the non-inspirational messages.

Interestingly, the same areas as in Figure A were more active for non-inspirational messages from outgroup leaders. This tells us that participants were focusing more on inspirational messages from ingroup leaders and non-inspirational messages from out-group leaders.

These results provide strong support for the social identity theory of leadership. Through subjective processing of identical information, participants made sure that their group was seen in a better light than the competing outgroup.

The key message for aspirational leaders is this. If you want to make sure that your inspirational messages don’t fall on deaf ears, make sure that you a) create a vision and group identity that your followers can identify with so that you will be seen as an ingroup leader and b) focus on creating the best outcome for the whole group rather than just the best outcome for yourself.

Pascal Molenberghs receives funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC Discovery Grant (DP130100559) and ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DE130100120) and Heart Foundation (Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship (1000458)). He also receives funding and collaborates with Neuresource (http://www.neuresourcegroup.com.au/) and a similar article was featured recently as a blog on their website.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/leaders-only-inspire-when-we-feel-part-of-their-group-44188

Writers Wanted

Major reform of surveillance laws proposed by review

arrow_forward

Thank you to everyone who helped The Conversation survive (and thrive) in 2020

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Business News

How to Find the Best SEO Services Company That Offers Guaranteed Results

As a business owner, you have to be strategic about how you’ll be able to reach your target market. That is why entrepreneurs implement various marketing tactics to reach their goals. With today...

News Co - avatar News Co

Top Reasons Why Your Business Needs SEO

SEO is crucial for the ranking of a website. You may think that SEO offers greater searchability while it can do more than this. The most cost-effective tool for the survival of smalls businesse...

News Co - avatar News Co

Nisbets’ Collab with The Lobby is Showing the Sexy Side of Hospitality Supply

Hospitality supply services might not immediately make you think ‘sexy’. But when a barkeep in a moodily lit bar holds up the perfectly formed juniper gin balloon or catches the light in the edg...

The Atticism - avatar The Atticism



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion