11 Rules for Leaders—advice from a classic
Issue 66: Career updates from Jay and Dom, and eleven leadership rules from 1950 that hold up pretty well in 2023
The past few weeks have been eventful for both of us! Jay was promoted to Full Professor of Psychology at New York University and Dom started a new position as Associate Vice Provost for Research in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Lehigh University. We are both excited for what the future holds and are deeply grateful for the communities that have supported our careers and contributed so much to our success.
A big part of this transition for both of us involves greater responsibility in leadership positions. As we move into these new roles, we find ourselves giving more thought to what it means to be an effective leader. There is no shortage of cutting-edge research out there on leadership, not to mention good (and often not-so-good) advice from management gurus. Today we wanted to share some of the best advice we’ve seen.
We read a lot of this work, attend numerous talks on the topic, and have conducted and published our own research on leadership. But this week we went old school in our search for leadership advice and dusted off a dog-eared 73-year-old classic paperback. A blast from the past.
In 1950, sociologist George Casper Homans published a groundbreaking book called ‘The Human Group’. Drawing on field studies of small groups, including a street gang, Polynesian families, and electrical workers, he developed a theory of social relations. Among his many insights was a set of rules for leaders — prescriptions for leadership success. It strikes us that these rules still hold up very well in 2023, and that they apply to groups and organizations well beyond street gangs, Polynesian families, and electrical workers.
Here are Homans’ 11 Rules for Leadership, reworded slightly for the 21st century:
Leaders must continually work to build and maintain their legitimacy. Unless your followers choose to follow, you aren’t a leader!
Leaders must live up to the norms of their groups. You must be one of us. Among the best of us, even.
Leaders must lead. Shirking responsibility or avoiding decisions undermines your legitimacy.
Leaders should be careful not to give directions that will not be followed. Bring people with you. Be aware of when you’re pushing too hard, too fast.
Leaders must respect established channels. Don’t undermine the leaders you lead by letting people go around them to you.
Leaders should not blame followers in front of others. It undermines their standing and risks your own if your reaction is perceived as unjust.
Leaders must treat the group as a group, not as a set of individuals.
In dealing with problems, leaders should be less concerned with punishing individuals than with creating the conditions in which the group reinforces its own norms.
Leaders must listen. Show you want to hear from everyone by letting people speak, listening to what they say without immediate judgment.
When making decisions, leaders must take into consideration the total situation, including the group’s resources, the external environment, relationships within the group, and the group’s norms.
Leaders must know themselves. Understand your strengths, and be aware of the weaknesses that cause you to deviate from these rules!
Many of these rules have been validated by subsequent research in social psychology and organizational behavior. Our favorite rule is the insight that leaders must treat their groups as groups and move beyond simply managing relationships with individuals. This is a key principle in our book and a point we try to make to anyone who’ll listen!
How about you?
Which of these rules resonate given your experiences with good (and not-so-good) leaders? Which, if any, do you think would be best left behind in 1950? And which of these ideas would you like us to write more about in future newsletters?
We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
News and Updates
“What often leads to principled dissent is someone that strongly identifies with the group and that care so much about the health and longevity of the group, that they’re willing to risk social capital to say something.” Dom’s research on dissent was highlighted by Todd Kashdan in an HBR podcast. If you’re interested in principled disobedience and virtuous dissent, check out Todd’s Provoked newsletter.
Animate Your Science helped us create a series of videos based on the principles in our book. Last week, they shared our video on how people can reduce discrimination. Please check it out if you haven’t seen it yet.
In case you missed it…
Our last newsletter described two types of leaders: individually-oriented ones who focus on building a personal bond with the individuals on their team and group-oriented ones who spend more time building a vision and a sense of camaraderie. Both make for good bosses, but only group-oriented leaders make people feel part of something bigger than themselves.
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