Evidence shows leadership is enhanced with cooperation, sharing and creating belonging.
If you want to be a great leader, you’ll have no shortage of advice from articles, books, pop culture or experts. From setting a vision and giving people a sense of purpose to empowering innovation and stomping adversaries, there are scores of tips for successful leadership.
Perhaps under-appreciated however, is the power of cooperation and generosity in getting ahead, staying ahead and gaining high admiration from others.
Cooperation Leads To Leadership
A new study published in Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Non Linear Science found when people cooperate with more group members over longer periods of time, they are more likely to emerge as leaders in the group. In addition, their cooperative behavior is likely to be imitated by other group members. And of course, as Charles Darwin found, species that cooperated with their own group members most effectively were most likely to survive over species who didn’t. Bottom line: cooperation may be an especially effective way for leaders to gain influence and for groups to be successful.
Sharing And Belonging Are Fundamental
Sharing is a social norm that is critical to being human. It is also learned early. In a study by the University of Münster and Free University Berlin in Germany, children who were only 16 months old were demonstrating helping behaviors as a result of paying attention to social norms. Another study published in Nature Human Behavior found that as early as age 8 children pay attention to the unwritten rules that lead to sharing. They are more likely to cooperate when they perceive generous behavior is valued within a group.
One of the reasons sharing and cooperation are so important to us is because they speak to our need for belonging. In fact researchers at the University of Wyoming analyzed responses from over 2,400 people and found whether people’s primary needs were for prominence, inclusiveness, avoidance of negativity or tradition, at the root of all of these was a need for feeling connected and part of a group.
Leading Through Cooperation, Sharing And Belonging
All of this has important implications for leadership. Leaders who cooperate, share and foster belonging will be more influential and successful over time. Here’s how that looks on a day-to-day basis in the work environment:
- Share common goals. Successful leadership has everything to do with finding or creating common ground and outcomes which can benefit groups across boundaries. Look for projects on which people or groups across the organization can collaborate, cooperate and win together. This kind of cross-boundary effort can create alliances and strengthen bonds between people and across teams.
- Share the spotlight. Some leaders seem to think their status is based on looking better than others around them. However, smart leaders realize their power comes from making others around them successful. I had a boss who was a take-no-prisoners kind of leader. He was gruff, demanding and hard-edged. One thing he was brilliant at however, was boosting up his group. He demanded excellence and when he got it, he was the first and loudest to provide recognition and positive PR for his team members. His employees went far because he was such an invested champion of their success.
- Share information. Of course, there is some information leaders cannot share with team members. But in general, more transparency is better. Openness about where the company is going, how the business is doing and which priorities are most critical are all helpful context for teams. When people feel in the loop and part of the information network, their sense of belonging will also be elevated.
- Share yourself. Being authentic is also an element of good leadership. I once worked for a boss who was like Teflon. He was professional, poised and unflappable—to a fault. His constant control was helpful in many situations, but became a detriment when people questioned his authenticity. People want leaders who can be strong under pressure, but also leaders who can sometimes let down their hair and show human emotion.
Great leadership requires the right mix of vision, empathy, focus on performance and plenty more. But a big part of success includes cooperating and sharing as well as helping people feel a sense of belonging. Leaders would be well-served to find common ground, provide recognition, be open with information and be authentic. All of these contribute to the conditions in which individuals are more satisfied, the group is more likely to achieve its desired outcomes, and the leader is valued and admired.