“Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” When our friends allow us to tap into their mental capacities, aid us with their physical strength, and entrust us with their many other personal resources, they effectively bestow us with social ability.
Social Ability is the fourth element in the Six Sources of Influence — a framework instituted by the book “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change.”
Social Ability: provide assistance.
While all vital behaviors are enacted by individuals, the assistance from an enabling group of individuals can make an enormous difference in influencing change.
When to provide assistance to bring about challenging changes?
1. When others are part of the problem:
If bad behavior is reinforced by a group of players, all the players have to be engaged in driving change. For example, the CEO of a media brain trust in South Africa intended to stop domestic violence against women. On a TV program, he and his writers purposefully created a well-respected teacher who repeatedly abused his wife. On one episode, the neighbors, hearing the teacher beating his poor wife again, couldn’t take it any longer, so they gathered outside the teacher’s front door, banging pots and pans. The teacher became embarrassed and started to change his behavior. After watching the show, people in townships across South Africa, upon hearing the sounds of spousal abuse next door, began to do the same — they stood in front of the door banging pots and pans to stop the aggression. The effect of the movement was dramatic. The country’s domestic violence rate soon dropped to a record low. The takeaway in this case is that it was the neighbors who had to help lead the change for good because their previous behavior of standing by and allowing obvious abuse to continue was a big part of the problem.
What happened in a software development company is another case in point. Once, most projects of the company couldn’t meet the schedule targets, but no one wanted to tell the truth; worse, the employees’ behavior of lying to look good was reinforced by their managers’ acquiesce. To eliminate the problem, the VP of development asked the training department to build a course on how to hold high-stakes conversations about project problems, then charged every leader of the company to teach. Hence, the very managers who had previously sent subtle signals of suppressing candor taught a two-hour session every two weeks on how to speak up under pressure. At the beginning, employees listened cynically in silence. By the third session, some of them raised concerns, and the managers, in the context of the class, felt a special responsibility to respond appropriately. A few more sessions later, many employees began to naturally open up. With the managers, who used to be an important part of the problem, being engaged in embracing change, powerful new norms emerged within a matter of months, and vital behavior of candor flourished in the organization which soon launched two product releases on time and on budget with morale at an all-time high.
2. When you can’t succeed on your own:
When a vital behavior demands the collective efforts of multiple individuals, it becomes imperative to cultivate their ability for effective teamwork. As it happens, collaboration in teams is essential for almost all organizations today.
- Novelty: During challenging or turbulent times when novel solutions are called for, multiple heads can be better than one.
- Risk: When facing risks, working in a tight knit team to draw on social capital can substantially increase the chance of victory. For example, from the moment a member arrives at Delancey Street — a hugely successful organization employing thousands of former thieves, prostitutes, robbers, murderers, gang members, drug addicts, alcoholics, and homeless people — he/she is immersed in an environment designed to maximize peer support. The entire Delancey experience revolves around fostering a culture of mutual support among people who mentor, coach, and teach each other, understanding that they have to succeed together, or nobody will make it out leading a normal life. The entire organization is made up of self-supporting groups that are able to do what individual members cannot do on their own. Group leaders take primary responsibility for the group’s growth, needs, and supervision, while members all supervise and challenge one another. As a result, even when former burglars are asked to enter people’s homes to help moving their valuables, or former alcoholics are asked to serve drinks, there is no problem. Therefore, take your lead from Delancey by turning your more experienced employees into coaches, trainers, instructors, and mentors, and you can make the best use of your existing human resources and dramatically lower your risks.
- Blind Spots: The most obvious circumstance necessitating social support to influence vital behaviors arises from the requirement for effective feedback that can only be obtained from a pair of outside eyes. For example, to learn tennis, anyone practicing with the aid of a coach knows that immediate feedback from an expert beats solo practice every time. It tells us that seeking real-time feedback from an expert is another important form of social assistance.
- Group Solidarity: Solidarity is one of the most powerful forms of social capital. Under various circumstances, we must give ourselves up to the larger cause and act for the greater good, or the entire plan will fail. For example, with two parents at home, the understanding that “no” actually means “no” can only be accomplished when both parents stand in perfect accord; otherwise, the child will play one parent off the other, leading to anarchy. Just as it holds true for the discipline of children, solidarity rules in abundant profound and pervasive problems in our lives, both personal and professional.
Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013, May 17). Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change (2nd ed.). McGraw Hill.
Collet, B. (2022, Dec. 13). To Succeed in Change and Transformation, Uncover Why People Behave the Way They Do. Agile Leader Academy. https://www.agileleader.academy/post/to-succeed-in-change-and-transformation-uncover-why-people-behave-the-way-they-do
Related articles and book:
Collet, B. (2019). Agile leadership. (Online course). https://www.udemy.com/course/agile-leadership/