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Leadership Reciprocity

Leadership Reciprocity may be a mouthful of a phrase. But it is a profoundly elegant principle.

First of all, let’s look at the Principle of Reciprocity itself.  This principle means that when you do something in someone else’s best interest, they feel a sense of obligation to reciprocate. Robert Cialdini writes about this in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.  In this best-selling book, Cialdini cites reciprocity as one of six foundational  principles of influence.  Marketers have taken his teaching and used it to justify free give-aways as a way to increase sales.

But this isn’t just a sales or marketing technique.  There is a growing body of research literature that seems to indicate that reciprocity is hard-wired into what makes us human.  Just think of the universal acknowledgement that “you give to get.” Or the broad understanding that “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” How about the phrase “much obliged, sir” instead of a simple “thank you?”  Even language itself reflects this principle: the Portuguese word for “thank you” is obrigado (obligated).

How does a leader practice this principle?  How does a leader benefit from this principle?  How does a leader use this principle to advance his or her cause?  How does a leader use this principle to serve his or her sphere of influence?

Here are some initial thoughts:

  • Leaders invest before they expect engagement.
  • Leaders listen before they pronounce.
  • Leaders create before they disrupt.
  • Alternately, at times, leaders disrupt before they create.
  • Leaders serve before they are served.
  • Leaders realize their investments will often outweigh the investment of any of their followers.

In Simon Sinek’s TED talk, “Leaders East Last,” Sinek shares a profound implication of this principle. In times of war, the generals don’t eat until everyone below them has.  Because the leaders are asking for sacrifice from the front-line soldiers (sometimes even the ultimate sacrifice), they invested in these same soldiers nourishment first.  Only when the infantry was well-fed did the leadership eat.

Where do you need to practice your own version of Leadership Reciprocity?