In the last lesson, we talked about Rick Rescorla who was “one of the best combat leaders [LTC Moore] ever saw.” Rescorla learned a great deal from men like Colonel Moore. Yet, Rescorla will be remembered not for how many enemy soldiers he killed in combat, but for the 2,687 civilian Morgan Stanley employees, he saved on 9/11.
When I talk about Moore and Rescorla in class, I always follow it with a fascinating article from the Harvard Business Review entitled, The Trickle-Down effect of Good (and Bad) Leadership.
The Lesson of the Trickle-Down Effect
Leaders beget leaders. Great leaders beget great leaders, and terrible leaders beget terrible leaders. A great leader’s protégé is not quite as good as the great leader and the terrible leader’s protégé is not quite as bad, but protégés are significantly more likely to become more like their bosses.
This trickle-down effect means that if you work for a great leader, the odds are high that you will also be evaluated as a great leader. Likewise, if you work for a terrible leader, the odds are high that you too will be evaluated as a terrible leader.
There is nothing magical to this proposition. Nor is it just perception (e.g., the halo effect from the boss). It is a social contagion. We learn from those in authority over us.
The authors of the article used 360-degree assessments of high-level (HL) managers and their mid-level manager (ML) direct reports to determine the social contagion effect of leaders. They found that:
Those whose overall leadership effectiveness was in the bottom 10% had direct reports (MLs) whose engagement scores were in the 15th percentile, and the direct reports of those ML managers had engagement scores in the 24th percentile. In contrast, HL managers whose overall leadership effectiveness was in the top 10% had direct reports (MLs) whose engagement scores were in the 81st percentile, and the subordinates of these ML managers had engagement scores in the 74th percentile. In plain terms, that means if you’re an HL manager doing a subpar job, you erode not only the engagement of those working for you but also the engagement of the people working for them. Happily, the converse is also true: if you’re a great boss, that engages your team and your team’s teams.
It is not much of a leap to suggest that social contagion may apply in other areas beyond management such as sales, networking, or other business endeavors where subordinates learn from their bosses.
What About You?
Is your boss someone that you wish to emulate? Are you?
 Moore, H. G., & Galloway, J. L. (1992). We were soldiers once…And young.New York: Random House Publishing Group. (p. 303).
 Zenger, J. & Folkman, J. (2016, Jan 14). The trickle-down effect of good and bad leadership. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/01/the-trickle-down-effect-of-good-and-bad-leadership