How group-oriented leaders can drive success and collaboration
Issue 65: Our latest article in Quartz at work outlines four tips for leaders who want to lead teams more effectively
Last week, we published a column in Quartz about how to use the power of group identity in organizations , specifically how leaders can drive success and collaboration by being “entrepreneurs of identity”. Check out a summary of the piece below and read the full article to learn more.
Bad bosses are a common problem for employees. A study of 35 European nations found that 13% of employees are stuck with a bad boss and one in seven US workers feel that their manager engages in hostile behaviors towards them. Bad bosses are also a major predictor of employee dissatisfaction and talent exodus. In fact, A toxic corporate culture is over ten times more powerful than compensation in predicting a company's attrition rate!
But what makes a great boss?
In our book, we report that there are two types of leaders: individually-oriented leaders who focus on building a personal bond with the individuals on their team and group-oriented leaders who spend more time building a vision and a sense of camaraderie. Both types of leaders know how to make people feel valued, but only group-oriented leaders can make people feel part of something bigger than themselves. That shared sense of connection is a powerful tool for building high-performing teams.
For example, one study found that that employees who have more group-focused managers—the type that communicate a shared vision and spend time building collective camaraderie—feel more identified with their work teams. These teams, in turn, have higher levels of group performance and feel more effective.
In addition, the language that group leaders use is connected to performance. One recent study found that companies that used collective pronouns in their annual reports were more profitable. Each additional time they used “us” or “them” was associated with nearly an extra million dollars more in annual profits.
Here is an example of how this language was used in a 2014 letter to the stakeholders by Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, where seven first-person plural pronouns (i.e., we, us, we, our, our, our, our) and four first-person singular pronouns (I, my, my, my) were recorded:
”We’ll be working on the three areas outlined above. They describe the key factors that are enabling us to lead Siemens into a successful future. Throughout this process, we will gear all our actions to the requirements of our customers, our owners and our employees as well as to the values of society. I personally intend to ensure that the next generation will inherit a better Company. That’s my vision. That’s my responsibility. That’s my promise. (emphasis added; p. 9)”
This figure shows the relationship between use of we-referencing language and return on assets in the study. This study provides evidence that CEOs’ use of we-referencing language is positively associated with higher organizational performance. The authors concluded “to be effective, CEOs need to be identity leaders—that is, leaders who inspire positive organizational outcomes by representing and cultivating a sense of “we” among organizational members.”
If you are in a position of leadership now, or in the future, we think it would be useful to understand the science of social identity. Here are our tips…
How to think like a group-oriented leader:
Think and talk like you care about the group. Effective leaders are focused on collective well-being, rather than their own selfish interests. Find ways to make people feel included and valued, including using the inclusive language (‘we” and “us”).
Use symbols to signal identity. If you walk into any sports stadium, you’ll immediately see a plethora of team colors and symbols. Fans love to buy this swag to symbolize their loyalty and connection with other fans. These symbols are like a bat signal to other group members. Create your own symbols of identity.
Reward collective performance. Virtually every organization, including the universities we work for, focuses on rewarding individual performers. But many fail to dole out rewards to teams and groups when they achieve collective success. Find ways to layer in collective rewards for team success, as well as for the unsung heroes who selflessly put their groups first.
Pay attention to social norms. It’s not enough to build a group identity. Once people identify with a group, they automatically look to other group members to determine how to act and feel. This is why it is important to create highly visible social norms that will mobilize the team for success. Norms provide the group culture that determines success.
Create procedures that foster group success. Great leaders understand the power of procedures to ensure fairness and outcomes that group members will see as legitimate.
No matter our situation, whether we’re running a business, coaching our daughter’s soccer team, or volunteering for a charitable organization, we can learn from the group-oriented leader and draw a broader circle that brings people in.
For more of our work on leadership and applying the psychology of identity to the business world, check out our video on how leaders can communicate more effectively .
News and Updates
On a recent episode of Trust Me Podcast, Jay discussed various aspects of groupthink, social identity and cult psychology. They talked about the good and bad about groups and organizations, and how we can foster a shared identity while making our groups healthier and less oppressive. Listen to the full episode here:
In cased you missed it…
Our last newsletter featured an interview with Deb Mashek about her new book, Collabor(h)ate! Her book details the science of collaboration and how to apply tips from psychology to the challenges of working with peers and colleagues.