The Domino Effect of Leadership

The first time I was exposed to the concept of leadership, apart from in my parental home, was at primary school in Amsterdam, when the teachers had put together a huge presentation about the holocaust and a display of the most horrendous images I had ever seen so far during my young life. It certainly made an impression on me and has stayed with me forever. I guess that was the objective.

Of course the leader that caused this according to my teachers was Hitler. Now Hitler is probably the most famous leader of all time, not because of the good he did, but because of his terrible deeds. Everyone does forget that his actions were duplicated by many of his officers and followers, who copied his behaviour and his actions in great detail.

In this short piece I would like to engage you to think a little bit about leadership. In particular the effect leadership has on the people around you. We are all leaders, whether you think you are or not. Your actions and your behaviour have an impact on how others behave around you.

I would like you to have think about the most senior leader that works in your organisation or a leader that you have worked for at some time in your life. More than likely you will have had either a great or not so great experience. And more than likely you will remember the experience. Most leaders that we have worked for, maybe not even directly will be memorable to us. Consider for a few minutes those leaders that have had the most impact on you.

Now just take one of them and consider what it was about her/him that made it so memorable for you.

Now can you remember who this person's leader was? What was your view of her/him at the time?

Can you see any similar behaviour patterns between them both. Consider just even one and you will see that there will be some similarities in their behaviour.

Humans more than any animal on this planet copy their fellow humans in their behaviour. Why do you think it is that daughters and sons end up being so very similar to their mothers or fathers. I am sure there is lots of research on this subject.

Anyway what's the point of all this I hear you say? Well, in terms of leadership and those at the most senior positions in corporate life, they have very little idea the impact they have on those around them. Their behaviour literally will shape the way that people will ultimately behave. If you are an encouraging and sympathetic leader, you will encourage those traits of those around you and indeed it will filter throughout the entire organisation. If you are an autocratic leader, maybe moody and short tempered, guess what? The same traits will develop of those that report to you and very likely to the rest of the team below them.

Quite worrying don't you think? Well it's also an opportunity to self reflect and examine your own behaviour and look around you and consider all the people who have made an impact on you during your life, your parents, teachers, friends, colleagues and most importantly the person you are or have worked for.

My message is for all leaders and as you are a leader in some way in your life, please consider how you behave towards the people that have to take your lead, whether it's your own children or people that work for you. The way that you act, the things that you say, your written communication have a major and significant impact on the people around you.

And more importantly if you lead a large group of people and are a CEO of a major organisation your people will copy you starting with your immediate reports and although it will water down somewhat, it will still filter down to all the layers within the organisation.

That's why I have called it the 'Domino Effect of Leadership'

I would love to hear about your own experiences.

In between me writing this article, I watched a programme on BBC 4 about the Brain with Michael Mosely and found that he was confirming my theory and that this was put to the test in 1961.

In 1961 Albert Bandura conducted a controversial experiment known as the Bobo doll experiment, to study patterns of behaviour associated with aggression. Bandura hoped that the experiment would prove that aggression can be explained, at least in part, by social learning theory, and that similar behaviors were learned by individuals modeling their own behavior after the actions of others. The experiment was criticised by some on ethical grounds, for training children towards aggression. Bandura's results from the Bobo Doll Experiment changed the course of modern psychology, and were widely credited for helping shift the focus in academic psychology from pure behaviorism to cognitive psychology. The experiment is among the most lauded and celebrated of psychological experiments. Here is a video clip that shows the experiment.