Who’s really the leader?

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Business meetingThe illusory superiority bias is a pretty well known flaw in our sense of self-perception, and I’ve written before about how this can especially befall our leaders, because they’re in such a position that they tend to lack a great deal of feedback on their performance and behaviours.

So it’s quite possible therefore that those in positions of power, aren’t actually those with the most influence.  In reality, it’s those influential folk inside your organization that are the true leaders, regardless of their particular job title.  It turns out that these informal leaders tend to have one skill that those in more official positions often severely lack – self awareness.

A famous study led by Vanessa Druskat highlights this basic difference.  The study found that these more informal leaders would typically take on a leadership role on an informal basis, dipping in and out as the situation dictated.

What’s more, the higher levels of self-awareness amongst the informal leader, often resulted in higher group performance levels.

“If the leader has low empathy and a high level of achievement drive, the leader’s goal-orientation drags down team performance.  But, importantly, if the leader has high levels of empathy and low levels of self-control, performance is also reduced.  Too much empathy gets in the way of calling people on their misbehaving,” Druskat says.

It underlines the importance of conscientiousness to a social business.  Research has showed that employees whose primary concern was that of the group were likely to see speaking up as part of their role.  By contrast, those for whom personal achievement was their focus were more likely to see speaking up as outside of their job description.  These different outlooks translated into higher performance for both individuals and for the team as a whole.

It’s often easy to get bogged down in purely hard metrics when we gauge the success or failure of an individual, but there is a hefty weight of research suggesting that softer skills are often crucial, especially when looking at the more collaborative elements that go into creating a social workplace.

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