The Affiliation Effect

Sometimes it is in the most simple of events that the most obvious principles standout. And it is always surprising how the most effective principles are usually the simplest.


I want you to see this just as I did so that you can grasp what I mean by the above statement, so imagine this as you read…


Sitting in a huge gymnasium for a graduation assembly of the year 12s of my daughter’s school, I am watching the bored disinterest on the faces of the students as they limply clap with obligation to the announcements of student awards. One after another each individual made their way up to receive their award, surrounded by the dull slow applaud of their peers.

Then the individual student awards were complete – relief was obvious across the cohort.


To follow were the announcements of the places held by the individual houses of the student body. The school population is divided into six house groups which compete throughout the year for points awarded for achievement, contribution and good standing. The announcer started by announcing 6th place.


The faces of the students lit up with anticipation and excitement, the applause erupted with fervour, the gymnasium filled with chatter and cheering from the whole student population. Every student cheered with equal excitement for every house place – regardless of whether they personally benefited as an individual.


This was the power of affiliation and belonging manifesting right in front of me.


A strong yet simple reminder that when we lead a team to achieve and excel together, the engagement of each individual is actually greater than when we focus on providing individual accolade only.


Early research differentiates affiliative interest and affiliative assurance, finding that leader affiliative interest (leaders concerned with their followers’ needs, welfare, and development) has positive influence on the follower cohort and climate. “They (affiliative leaders) support and empower them (followers) and create an atmosphere of openness and interpersonal trust. These leaders seek to work toward organizational objectives together with their subordinates and—as they are able to see a person’s performance independent of the relationship they have—provide them with feedback” (Boyatzis, R (1979) In Steinmann, B etal 2016).


When you choose to climb the ladder, you are making a choice to lead others, to work for their development and achievement.


If you haven’t realised this, it may be important to reassess why you bothered aiming for a leadership position to start with – because ego placating is simply not a good enough reason.


If you have realised this about yourself as a leader of others, contemplate this immense and dynamic power that affiliation possesses to empower and motivate your team to new levels of functioning.


Beyond the benefits of this dynamic to your organisation or to yourself as a leader, enhancing affiliation among your team gives your followers reason to want to show up for you each day. They emotionally commit to being ‘a part of’ what you offer because let’s face it – everyone wants to go to a job that they actually enjoy.

References

Boyatzis, R. E. (1979). “The need for close relationships and the manager’s job,” in Organizational Psychology: A Book of Readings, 3rd Edn, eds D. A. Kolb I, M. Rubin, and J. M. McIntyre (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall), 95–100.

Steinmann, B.; Otting, S. K.; and Maier, G. W. (2016) Need for Affiliation as a Motivational Add-On for Leadership Behaviors and Managerial Success, Frontiers in Psychology, 22 December 2016, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01972.

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