When you are unsure of yourself, it generally means that any knowledge or skills you have within yourself are insufficient to handle the situation you are in, whether it be a business problem or an unfamiliar environment, or even when meeting strangers. In these situations, we look outside of ourselves for the answers or clues on how to behave. And it is in these exact moments where we are the most vulnerable to be influenced by our peers.
Now for those of you who are reading in between the lines and see the glass half full can see an opportunity here. When times of uncertainty roll around, whether it be a company pivot, organizational restructure, a new competitor in the picture, an impacting economic event, or newly imposed government regulations, you can have enormous persuasive and leadership leverage in your peer group.
Now it’s a matter of character how you choose to use or abuse this golden nugget of insight. Once you have settled on whether you are on Batman’s side or Joker’s side, and hopefully you don’t even have to think about it, let’s dig into 5 ways you can use this super-power to lead, no matter the title you have.
Everyone loves a success story
When Google and Apple launched their products and they were a success, where does everyone want to work now? It’s in our human nature to follow those who succeed, because we all want a piece of the dough. If you can find someone who has succeeded before you in implementing your initiative or a similar one and share their story, you will surely get buy-in from your peers.
Who the messenger is matters
People listen most to others like themselves. This is what is known as a self-reinforcing behavior that is used to validate one’s thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, those that are less like us seem less trustworthy and we question what they say. Keeping this in mind, when enacting a new initiative, choose peers who are most similar to your audience to deliver your message if they are more similar to them than you. Even if you are more of an authority figure and can speak more eloquently, it is not enough to over-ride the tendency of people to relate to someone that’s more similar to them. Better yet, if your messenger is someone who was a known resistor that now supports you or has been there longer than most of your peers, they have a more influential position of power than you do. It’s better to achieve your goal than to get full credit, so don’t hog the limelight and let others participate in spreading your message of change.
Lead by example
As the old adage goes, money attracts money and crowds attract crowds. We know it’s true that a tip jar with money it will get more tips than a tip jar that is empty. And we would rather go to a restaurant that is busy with a line out the door than one that is empty. If you lead with the behavior that you want others to model you are tapping into natural part of behavior that humans have participated in since they were babies. Copying. Your behavior will attract more of that behavior, otherwise how else could you explain why your friends are so similar to you?
Frame your messages suggesting others are following too
With the current movement of environmental preservation, as well as to reduce costs, a hotel placed 2 different signs in different rooms by the towels. One said “Help us save the environment by reusing your towels” and the other one said “Join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment by reusing your towels.” Can you guess which one had more of an impact? The second one suggesting how other guests behaved had a 34% increase in towel reuse compared to the other sign.
You can’t help but to follow those who are sure of themselves because it creates a sense of trust. No one wants to make a mistake at work or being on the losing team, so people will place their bets with those who think they can win.
But watch out!
There is however 1 pitfall you should be wary of, and that is, what if you are wrong. After all we are human, but given that your peer group is human too and not a bunch of wild animals, they have the capacity to empathize and forgive. When you are wrong, you have essentially 2 options: A) Don’t falter and continue down the path you are taking or B) Retract what you said and start down a new path. We all know that President Trump uses tactic A almost too well, to the point where folks who know he is wrong vote for him anyway. Fortunately for him though, a study showed that politicians who admit to mistakes don’t do as well in the polls as politicians who forge ahead down a wrong path because it makes them look weak and not trustworthy.
However, in the work place, admitting to a mistake in front of your peers can increase trust and create a culture of honesty. But instead of showing shame, show confidence and your peers will respect that. So unless you are running for a position in politics, option B will be your best bet.
Using the 5 tactics mentioned and knowing how to get yourself out of a wrong turn will strategically catapult you into a leadership role that you can use to have a positive impact.
Griskevivius, Vladas, et al. “Applying (and Resisting) Peer Influence.” MIT Sloan Management Review. 2008. sloanreview.mit.edu
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