This is a critical question for me. How do I pick someone to follow? This is especially difficult when you are playing the first follower role.
The first question that I had was: “Do I know and trust this person?”
If the answer is affirmative then this makes it a lot easier. There are a small number of people in the world who could call me up and say: “I intend to walk through the city centre at noon dressed as a banana while yodelling the works of Gilbert O’Sullivan – are you in?” and I wouldn’t hesitate to join them. Even if it all goes horribly wrong, I know that their intentions are good, that their creativity will make it an interesting experience and that, hell, they’re just fun to be with.
And then there are people that I know but do not trust. A distinction is normally made between reliance on someone’s honesty and reliance on their competence. I would rather not follow someone I do not consider to be honest unless I absolutely had to. Where as the competence issue is contextual. I may well trust my sommelier friend when he invites me to try a new wine. I may not trust him when he invites me to go white-water rafting with him.
Finally there are those that I do not know. Here I have several strategies. The first is to simply flip a coin – at least I’ll be right 50% of the time.
Alteratively, I may prefer to go with my intuition. Does this person look like a leader? Do they act in a leaderly way? We probably use this strategy more frequently than we would admit to. It’s not a bad strategy but it is vulnerable to the “halo effect”. The halo effect is where we judge a book by its cover. And the cover may be beautiful but the book may still be rubbish. Or the reverse may be true. A frustrating fact about the halo effect is that even when we are aware of it, we still fall prey to it. Just because someone looks like a leader does not mean they are a leader.
A third strategy might be called “tit for tat”. Tit for tat says that I start with the assumption that people are trustworthy. And then I see if they earn that trust. If they do, then I can place more faith in them. If they do not, then I remove that trust. Trust gradually built – from a small investment to something big. Tit for tat is a remarkably robust strategy for building cooperation. But for tit for tat to work, we cannot fall in love with our would-be leaders. We cannot follow them blindly. We have to make them earn our trust (work it, baby).