How can you become the leader of a group even when you don’t know what you’re talking about?
Speak first. Speak confidently. Speak often.
In a study involving groups solving math problems, leaders proved to be no more competent than the other members. Those with the most dominant personalities ended up running things and it was because they spoke first and most forcefully.
As you’ve probably anticipated, in the actual experiment, the group leaders proved to be no more competent than anyone else. They became leaders by force of personality rather than strength of ability. Before starting the group task, the participants completed a short questionnaire designed to measure how “dominant” they tended to be. Those people with the most dominant personalities tended to become the leaders. How did the dominant individuals become the group leaders even though they were no better at math? Did they bully the others into obeying, shouting down meek but intelligent group members? Did they campaign for the role, persuading others that they were the best at math, or at least the best at organizing their group? Not at all. The answer is almost absurdly simple: They spoke first. For 94 percent of the problems, the group’s final answer was the first answer anyone suggested, and people with dominant personalities just tend to speak first and most forcefully.
So in this experiment, group leadership was determined largely by confidence. People with dominant personalities tend to exhibit greater self-confidence, and due to the illusion of confidence, others tend to trust and follow people who speak with confidence. If you offer your opinion early and often, people will take your confidence as an indicator of ability, even if you are actually no better than your peers. The illusion of confidence keeps the cream blended in. Only when confidence happens to be correlated with actual competence will the most able person rise to the top.
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