Reciprocity in Leadership Development: Beyond Economics
In my last post, I made a case for bartering as part of leader development in times of tight budgets. But there is another alternative that can be considered fruitfully that does not involve bartering at all. It might sound similar, but when we consider human behaviour around gift giving, there is no specific trade to be made in the present - rather there is an expectation that the gift will be returned in some way in the future. This is the Principle of Reciprocity, one of the key Principles of Persuasion, promoted by Professor Robert Cialdini.Practising Reciprocity is perhaps one of the biggest investments you can make. Cialdini's own research proved this to be highly successful in triggering persuasion in numerous situations.
While barter is about clear expectations on giving or receiving something specific,reciprocity is about initial relational gifts that payoff in unrelated, un-promised ways in the future. It would require the leaders to switch to the mode of exploring opportunities to help others rather than how others can help them.
What can be a better way to build trust in relationships than providing some help to another person without making it conditional that they help too? The best part is that the receiver now feels bound to do something in return and hence ultimately both the giver and the receiver feel valued. I am also of the view that this principle when applied to leader development also promotes the idea of leaders developing other leaders and hence can enhance their transformational leadershipcapability.
In today's world, where organizations have a large pool of leaders who need a substantial amount of development, reciprocity may facilitate perhaps only a small part of the leader community. Yet such an alternative to development initiatives that need high investment is not trivial and can prove to be a very powerful vehicle for learning.
An increase of "development reciprocity" amongst leaders, along with other alternative forms of exchange can improve the overall leader development engagement for individuals, while rendering them a little less dependent on the initiatives requiring financial investments.
If this seems like a compelling idea, consider the following:
· How will the reciprocity culture help us to more effectively achieve our development objectives?
· Why will creating a culture of reciprocity for learning serve us well, and perhaps better than one dependent on financial investments?
· What exists in our system or culture that could shut down the idea of reciprocity?
Even as the questions continue, there is no doubt in my mind that besides aiding Leader Development, the seemingly simple Principle of Reciprocity has the potential to help us win clients too.
Do you have examples which illustrate application of the Principle of Reciprocity in leader development or client situations?
· Howell, Jane M., and Bruce J. Avolio. "Transformational Leadership, Transactional Leadership, Locus of Control and Support for Innovation: Key Predictors of Consolidated-Business-Unit Performance." Journal of Applied Psychology 78, no. 6(1993): 891-902.