Common career advice says that behaving like an Alpha is the best way to become recognized as an Alpha, but a study conducted by psychologists Kim Peters and Alex Haslam suggests that the leadership formula we’ve been taught to follow is at least a little bit flawed.
Peters and Haslam analyzed emergent leadership among 218 Marine recruits in a longitudinal study. They tracked recruits to see who self-identified as leaders or followers over their 32-week infantry training. Those who saw themselves as being natural leaders were more concerned with getting their own way than getting things done, while followers demonstrated the opposite. At the end of the program, recruits and commanders casted votes to award the recruit who showed the greatest leadership ability.
Those who established themselves as self-identified leaders were less-likely to earn votes than those who identified as followers, suggesting that those who want to lead should first exhibit willingness to follow. In other words, people were more likely to follow the follower than to follow the leader.
Further data suggests that because those who were motivated by their desire to be seen as leaders ended up distancing themselves from their group, so the group was less-likely to place their trust in would-be leaders.
Rather than working to exude confidence and dominance, building fellowship with other team members is the best course to follow when seeking to be seen as a leader. Widely regarded Leadership studies pioneer Warren Bennis, who was the Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, has written that leaders are only as effective as their ability to engage followers. Carrying out a successful operation happens by many strong team members working together as a unit, not by one person setting themselves apart.
So, if your goal is to climb up the ranks, make moves that prove you’re willing to work on the groups behalf of the group. Stand up for your peers instead of working to stand out from them, and make sure everyone knows you’re happy with your place on the team. That way, you’ll be more likely to be voted as captain.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.