Leaders should consider this herd instinct carefully to build followership:
- Recognize the power of existing affinities. The “high” that we get from a flood of oxytocin can be habit-forming, possibly even addictive. This means that breaking out of our existing connections can be extremely difficult. Sociologists long have noted how difficult it can be for an individual to escape the influences of a teenage gang, and now we know that gang initiations actually can cause physical change in the brain, which makes it harder to break those bonds.
- Encourage the formation of new affinities. If you want people to follow you, their brains must be able to recognize that they are part of a group of followers. Social media, face-to-face meetings, and other tools can help to send those signals to your followers’ brains.
- Fight the herd instinct in yourself. The paradox of all of this is that as a leader, you are in danger of falling into the herd mentality yourself. Leading often is uncomfortable, because you may not see other people around you doing similar things—that’s because you are out in front of the pack. When you are leading, your brain will not release the chemical cocktail that makes you feel good. Instead, you may feel anxious and begin to doubt yourself. It will seem safer to run to another group, rather than to start your own.
The good news is that the herd mentality can be broken. Research shows that conscious choices actually will make physical changes in the brain, breaking establishing neural pathways and making it easier to form new ones. Leaders have to change two brains: their own and their followers. Understanding that fact might make it a little easier to deal with the herd instinct effectively.
For more on neuroscience applications for human capital, check out the full blog series here.