Time magazine reports on an intriguing new study finding that groups select natural leaders on the basis of how much each person contributes to group discussions, even when their contributions have no relation to their actual competence.
They found that those who spoke more were rated as more competent and influential. Wondering whether this genuinely reflected their actual competence, they decided to test this out with a similar task where the group had to solve math problems.
But this time, they had the participants’ mathematics exam results and could see exactly how many problems each person had solved.
When the work was finished, the people who spoke up more were again likelier to be described by peers as leaders and likelier to be rated as math whizzes. What’s more, any speaking up at all seemed to do. Participants earned recognition for being the first to call out an answer, but also for being the second or third ‚Äî even if all they did was agree with what someone else had said. Merely providing some scrap of information relevant to solving the problem counted too, as long as they did so often enough and confidently enough.
When Anderson and Kilduff checked the participants’ work, however, a lot of pretenders were exposed. Repeatedly, the ones who emerged as leaders and were rated the highest in competence were not the ones who offered the greatest number of correct answers. Nor were they the ones whose SAT scores suggested they’d even be able to. What they did do was offer the most answers ‚Äî period.
The researchers conclude that one way dominant people attain influence is simple through acting in ways that make them appear competent, even when this isn’t the case.