• Monique C. Johnson, Ed.D.

Social Contagion - Leadership and The Trickle Down Effect

We have all heard the saying, “You are who you hang out with”, but have you ever wondered how relevant this statement is? Research shows that many behaviors and personality traits are contagious. For example, having just one optimistic friend increases your odds of happiness by 25%. To see if social contagion applies at work, leadership experts, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, set out to see which behaviors trickle down from leaders to the rest of their team.


The Top Traits That Trickle Down


The study included 265 high-level managers and how their leadership traits affect their mid-level management team. Of the 51 leadership traits researched, 100% of all traits trickled down, but there were some that stood out more than others:

Developing self and othersTechnical skillsStrategy skillsConsideration and cooperationIntegrity and honestyGlobal perspectiveDecisivenessResults focus

These same results trickled down from high level management to mid-level management, then from mid-level management to the entire company. In other words, some of your largest frustrations with your team as a whole, may simply be a reflection of your own areas of opportunity.


Which Of Your Leadership Traits Are Trickling Down?


As a leader, you have traits you would prefer your team embody. While each team member has a natural propensity for specific personality traits, your team is following your lead.

As a leader, you must not only consider your team’s traits as individuals, but as a whole. The traits you wish to develop that a few of your team members possess are your greatest areas of opportunity.


Do As I Say Not As I Do—Keeping Yourself In Check


One challenge of being a leader is that your desired leadership style is not always an accurate reflection of your actual leadership style. This contrast, sometimes, creates conflict within your team, because it creates a “do as I say and not as I do” leadership style. Since that is not your intention, you may not notice when it has occurred.


Open Lines of Communication


Forward thinking leaders understand that open lines of communication are essential for everything from innovation to developing a desirable company culture. Open lines of communication require leaders to get comfortable being uncomfortable. While feedback must always be respectful and professional, you must actively encourage your team to provide timely, direct, and constructive feedback.


Consider A 2 Way Performance Review


As valuable as open lines of communication are, many employees fear being honest with their manager. One way to get around this is to implement a 2-way performance review. This must go beyond general “yes” and “no” questions, exit interviews, or anonymous surveys that few fill out.


Maintaining A Positive Flow


While you may identify team-wide traits you would like to see improved upon, you will also identify some team-wide traits you are pleased with. While you invest your time and energy adjusting your leadership traits to inspire your team to do the same, don’t forget to invest more time in maintaining the positive flow of the leadership/team traits you are satisfied with.

Sometimes, the most effective way to achieve meaningful feedback is to work with an impartial business consultant, who knows the questions to ask to ensure the traits that trickle down from you to your team, and from your team to your company, are the traits your company requires to succeed. Whether your team is large or small, or your leadership role is high or mid-level, MCJ Consulting can work with you to pursue an effective positive and meaningful change.

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