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Are our leaders hampering social business?

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Are our leaders hampering social business?

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A few months ago I wrote about the importance of conscientiousness to social business.  People with high levels of conscientiousness have a strong level of compassion for the group, coupled with a confidence to speak up when required.

A study explored how conscientious people marry the concern they have for the group, whilst at the same time fulfilling their personal ambitions.  Can doing the right thing and being forthright with ones opinions have a negative impact on your personal success?

The findings were fascinating.  They 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.

The thing is, there is much to suggest that many leaders don’t tend to think that way.  The very people charged with encouraging people to care and collaborate, may be the least likely to exhibit those same behaviours themselves.  A landmark study from a few years ago emphasizes the size of the challenge.

The study saw groups of strangers paired up and asked to reveal a particularly distressing event from their lives.  These tended to range from things such as the death of a loved one to a divorce.  The aim of the study was to gauge the level of compassion for their partner when they were opening up over something so difficult.

It emerged that power played a significant part in the level of compassion shown.  The more powerful the individual in relation to their partner in the exercise, the more indifferent they would be to their suffering.  They would feel less of their partners pain, be less empathetic and certainly a long way from compassionate.

Studies have also shown that powerful people typically score worse at somewhat basic emotional tasks such as being able to ‘read’ emotions from someones facial expression.  Indeed, it emerged that powerful people would not even look at their partner as much as their less powerful peers.

Similarly, studies have shown that powerful people can often dominate conversations, interrupting discussions and monopolizing air time.  The study found that when people were given positions of power, they dominated discussions, thus squashing attempts by other members of the team to give their point of view.  This urge was only generally resisted when leaders were reminded of the importance of getting input from all members of the team.

It’s easy to believe that social business will be an emergent phenomenon that will bubble from within the ranks of an organization and gradually reform how things are done.  A central part of my recent book The 8 Step Guide to Building a Social Workplace was the establishment of a system or environment at work that encouraged social behaviours.  The role, attitude and behaviours of the leader are an essential part of that.

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