The Danger of Authority Bias and Social Proof Regarding Leadership Advice
Leadership is a crucial aspect of any organization or community. It involves guiding, directing, and motivating others to achieve a common goal. However, not all leadership advice is created equal. Some advice, known as pseudo-leadership advice, can be detrimental to individuals and organizations. Pseudo-leadership advice can take many forms, from motivational quotes and slogans to books, articles, and seminars. These sources of advice may seem legitimate at first, but they are not based on sound principles or proven methods of leadership. They may be based on personal beliefs, biases, or even manipulation. The problem with pseudo-leadership advice is that it can lead to poor decision-making and can ultimately harm individuals and organizations.
The problem with pseudo-leadership advice is that many people tend to follow it despite it being inaccurate. One of the reasons why people buy into and adhere to terrible pseudo-leadership advice is authority bias. Authority bias refers to the tendency for people to give more weight to the opinions or advice of individuals or groups perceived as experts or authorities. This bias is often based on the belief that individuals or groups in positions of authority have access to special knowledge, expertise, or experience that makes them more credible or trustworthy than others. As a result, people may be more likely to accept the advice of authority figures without questioning it, or they may be less likely to challenge or disagree with them.
For example, if a motivational speaker or self-help guru claims to have a secret formula for success, people may be more likely to accept their advice without questioning it because they perceive them as authority figures. Additionally, if a book or article on leadership is written by a well-known author or published by a reputable publisher, people may be more likely to accept the advice without evaluating its credibility. In both cases, the authority bias can lead to people accepting advice that may not be accurate or appropriate.
Another reason why people buy into and adhere to terrible pseudo-leadership advice is social proof. Social proof refers to the phenomenon where people tend to conform to the actions and behavior of others in a given situation. It is based on the idea that people will often look to others for cues on how to behave, particularly in situations where they are uncertain about what to do. Social proof can manifest in many forms, such as observing the behavior of others in a group, looking at how many people have liked or shared something online, or being influenced by testimonials or reviews.
For example, if a motivational speaker or self-help guru has a large following or has sold many books, people may be more likely to accept their advice because they perceive it as popular or widely accepted. Additionally, if a book or article on leadership is highly rated on Amazon or has many positive reviews, people may be more likely to accept the advice because they perceive it as credible or trustworthy. In both cases, social proof can lead to people accepting advice that may not be accurate or appropriate.
Two great examples that I often use for both of these are very popular quotes. However, both quotes are nonsensical when any level of critical evaluation is given. I theorize that these are so popular because of authority bias and social proof.
“We cannot lead anyone farther than we have been ourselves.“
The truth is that we can definitely lead people further than we have been ourselves. In fact, this quote not only flies in the face of over a dozen leadership principles, but if it were true, it would also negate every team-oriented first throughout history. Let’s look at another one.
“I want every little girl who someone says ‘they’re bossy’ to be told instead, ‘you have leadership skills.”
This quote might be the worst offender of all. First of all, being a leader is not about being bossy. Second, if we were to replace a couple of words, it becomes very easy to see how messed up this quote truly is. For example, I want every little boy who someone says ‘they’re a bully’ to be told instead, ‘you have leadership skills. Again, being a jerk is not what leadership is about, regardless of what gender you are. Yet, many women around the world share that quote as though there is some kind of wisdom found in it. In truth, all it does is further confuse what leadership is really all about.
Unfortunately, authority bias and social proof can have a powerful influence on decision-making and can lead to people accepting advice or information that may not be accurate or appropriate. Pseudo-leadership advice is not based on sound principles or proven methods but rather on personal beliefs, biases, or even manipulation. It can lead to poor decision-making and can ultimately harm individuals and organizations. Therefore, it is important to be aware of these biases and to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of leadership advice, regardless of who it comes from or how popular it may be. It is important to critically evaluate the advice and information, look for multiple sources and perspectives, and to consider the potential consequences of following the advice.
Additionally, it is important to be aware of the potential motivations of the people providing the advice. Some may be genuinely interested in helping others, while others may be more interested in profit or self-promotion. It is important to be aware of these potential motivations and to consider them when evaluating the advice.
Furthermore, a good leader should be able to differentiate between valid and invalid advice and be able to make informed decisions. One of the ways to do that is to be well-informed, knowledgeable, and able to do a critical analysis of the advice. Furthermore, leaders should also be able to consult with other experts, peers, and mentors to gain a different perspective and validate their decisions.
It is important to be aware of the potential influence of authority bias and social proof when evaluating leadership (or any) advice. By critically evaluating the advice and being aware of potential motivations and biases, individuals and organizations can make informed decisions and avoid the pitfalls of terrible pseudo-leadership advice. Finally, you should be aware that the leadership industry is unregulated. Anyone, even those without leadership education, can claim to be an expert without having to prove that they are. Be careful!
Interested in some great leadership quotes? Be sure to check out my article titled Leadership Lessons From The Mouths Of Leaders.