http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_qO7NFp4-s This video circulates already some time on leadership seminars and the internet. It beautifully illustrates the force of social proof: to determine what is correct, we find out what other people think is correct. (Cialdini*, 2007). A longer version of the video** shows that before this scene, the dancing guy had already quite a few ‘first followers’, before this one.
We especially use actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves in situations with unclear scripts. It can lead to ‘pluralistic ignorance’: everybody looks at each other and nobody does what should be done. Pluralistic ignorance explains why less people are inclined to help someone in emergency situations when other people are around. Experiments showed e.g. that help for a student having an epileptic seizure dropped from 85 % to 31 % when other people were around. Or reporting smoke in the room dropped from 75 % to 38 % when other people were around who ignored the smoke. We find comfort in other people (and stop thinking for ourselves) when we’re confronted with a difficult situation.
Social proof works also better when the other persons are ‘like us’. Similarity reinforces followership. That’s why lots of commercials include ‘average-joe-testimonials’. It also explains why ‘peers’ work better to influence behavior. Or why ‘references’ and ‘recommendations’ are so important in professional credibility. “In similarity, we connect…”
Cialdini quotes Cavett Robert in his book: “Since 95 % of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.” Social proof is important in leadership. Leadership does not automatically accept social proof in uncertain situations. Leadership initiates. And it understands that people follow actions, not words. And that this even works better when similarity comes into play. Leadership establishes a critical mass of early adaptors. The rest will follow.
*CIALDINI, Robert (2007). The psychology of persuasion. New York: HarperCollins publishers, 320 p.