John (Intro): I have been on a quest to learn everything I can about leadership obsessed with what makes the best leaders so good. After running companies small and large for the last 20 years, today I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name is John Laurito and I’m your host. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this topic: What makes the best leaders so good? Welcome to Tomorrow’s Leader.
John: All right, welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dive deep on all things leader-related, related to leading yourself and leading others. I am John Laurito, your host. So storytime today. So many of you know this famous experiment, which I went to school and started as an engineer, which was absolutely tormenting, and I switched over to economics and business. And I minored in psychology. And I remember when I minored in psychology, I took a class and they went through this whole experiment. So this is the famous experiment which involves bringing people into a room where they were perceived to be randomly selected to either be what’s called the student or the teacher. And the student was then and the student basically.
John: So when this group of people that were volunteers for this experiment would randomly pick out a student or teacher, well they are the only thing that came out was teachers. So they were going to be the teacher in this experiment. They didn’t know it, but the other person was working as part of the staff and was an actor and was playing the role of the student. So here is a scenario. The student gets hooked up to an electric shock machine, a device, and they are supposed to be answering questions, which are trivia questions or whatnot. I forget what exactly they were. And the teacher was the one reading these questions. Now, the questions were totally immaterial because the real experiment was a social experiment designed to see how much under what circumstances people would be willing to inflict pain and in some cases, incredible amounts of pain on other people. And what scenarios would prevent it or enable it.
John: So the teacher in this example would read through questions and the student would answer them incorrectly. And then they would have to, the teacher would have to administer a small shock. Now, there was no shock actually given to the student. The only shock was a small like little, I think it was a 10-volt shock, which was very little to the teacher just to show them what that level felt like, which was just basically a mild tingling sensation. But the dial went from 10 or 15 up to all the way up to like 450 volts. And on this dial, it would be like the first level was a range of 15 to 75. That was labeled slight shock. And then 75 to 120 volts was labeled moderate shock. And then it was 135 to 180 volt was labeled a strong shock. And then the next few ranges were like very strong shock, intense, strong, intense shock, extreme intensity shock all the way to where it says danger, severe shock.
John: And then the final range of 435 to 450 volts was just painted red and marked with triple Xs. So needless to say, 160 volunteers were put through this test and there was one part of this experiment, one group had to actually take the students hand and place it on the electrical plate to get the shock so they’d move the needle. They placed it on the shock so they physically had to place it on there. The next group didn’t have to do that, they just
administered the shock and they just had to be in the same room with the student and see and hear all their cries for pain. I mean, they would cry for pain, stop stop!. And then the other group was totally out of sight and totally in a different room. So part of it well, what’s really interesting is virtually everybody went significantly higher in this dial. And what was alarming about this is people’s willingness.
John: So this teacher would start to move the shock thing up and the person would be like, oh, no more, no more, no more. Stop, please. And they’d look over the person in the white lab coat administering this test and the person would just simply say, “the test requires that you continue.” And the teacher in this example would continue, they go up to the next level,
to the higher, to the intense shock, and the person would be like, “No! Stop it! I can’t take the pain!” And the teacher would still do it. And the person running the experiment would say, you know, the experiment is very important that you continue. It’s very important. That’s all they would say. They have that as a script. It’s very important that you continue, just continue. And the person would listen. They’d be inflicting perceived levels of immense pain on this person. Yet because this person in this, you know, white lab coat was telling them it was OK or that they had to do it. They did it. It was crazy.
John: So I was one side of the experiment was people’s obedience to just being told to do things just simply, you know, they would obey even if they knew it was a harmful outcome. It was crazy. But what was also very interesting and fascinating is the likelihood. So 70% of people would not go all the way to the triple Xs, which is crazy, 30% would. But 70% would not go all the way to the triple X or severe, intense shock if they were required to put somebody’s hand on the plate physically. Now, that dropped to 60%. So they were a little more willing to do it if they didn’t have to physically put their hand on the plate. But they were in the same room. OK, still 60% said, no, I can’t do it. And then that dropped all the way down to 35%, so 65% of people could go all the way to the end as long as a person wasn’t in the room and they didn’t have to see them or hear them. Wow. So think about that for a second, OK?
John: Here’s the big takeaway. First of all, crazy experiments like, OK, I mean, people literally woke up the next day thinking they had possibly killed somebody. I mean, just a horrible, horrible social experiment. I mean, just crazy, but unbelievably eye-opening. Right. Unbelievably eye-opening. Well, here’s the interesting thing. And what does this have to do with leadership? Well, the lesson from this is that the further that we get away from seeing, the actual pain that we cause, the more willing we are to do it. OK, so, you know, think about as a leader, as your organization gets bigger, it becomes easier and easier in some cases to make decisions that negatively impact large groups of people. And you see this all the time.
John: You know, one of my favorite movies, Christmas Vacation, you see the end of the movie, spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen it, if you’re one of the three people out there that have not seen it. Spoiler alert that at the end of the movie, The Boss comes to Chevy Chase’s home to Clark Griswold’s home. And he had decided not to give anybody bonuses and cut everybody’s pay or whatever it was. And everybody, including the Griswold’s, were counting on this bonus check for their pool. And everything in their life was now miserable because this guy who is living at large decided just that whatever. We’re just not going to give people bonuses. And then when he came to Clark’s home and the Griswold’s saw firsthand the pain he was causing, and he came there unwillingly by good old crazy Eddie,
you know, what did he do? He changed his mind. He decided you know what? I didn’t realize the pain I was causing and good people like you, I’m going to give you bonuses. So but in reality, that’s not just movies, but in reality, as leaders, as our organizations grow, it does become a little easier if we are not in their presence and have the relationships of the people. It’s easier to make those tough decisions, those painful decisions, the decisions that ultimately cause pain. And my point in saying this, and this is called abstraction.
John: This is an issue that leaders face. They become a little sometimes less sensitive and empathetic when they are leading people or organizations they can’t see or they are not around every single day. And one of the best things or most important things a leader can do is be aware of that and understand that. There’s a rule called the Dunbar 150 rule, which is basically a rule that basically was a guideline used many, many years ago with factories. And they found that you couldn’t really have a factory with more than 150 people in it because the person running the factory just didn’t have the ability to maintain relationships with more than 150 people. It just became really not doable. At 150 or less, that person could run the factory and run a really good positive culture. More than that, they couldn’t do it. It was harder. It was really difficult and it led to things like abstraction.
John: So my message today is really just a heightened level of awareness for those of you, especially as leaders that are growing organizations. And I remember, too, you know, you think back there were times when our organization became really big and we thought back, wow, I remember when it was small and we were building it and it just had a different feel. It was kind of like you’re reminiscing about the good old days of that tight family core. How do you keep that feeling as your organization grows? I’ve seen some organizations do it masterfully as they’ve grown. They’ve somehow been able to keep that culture the same. And it’s because they’ve set out to do that. It didn’t happen by accident. They are very deliberate. They wanted that feeling. They encouraged people to communicate, to give feedback. They reached out to their people. They did things that brought everybody together. They actually put that in their plans. They took strategic action and made decisions that enabled them to bring everybody together. It just didn’t happen by accident. So leaders out there, if you’re wondering, has our organization grown, it’s becoming a little bit more, you know, it’s less fun. It’s less of a family culture. It’s less of the culture, the old culture that we had. There are things you can do to bring that back, but it takes that deliberate action and conscious awareness to be able to do that.
John: You’ve got to recognize that it’s happened or before it’s happened and set out to do the right things are going to keep that culture nice and tight. So just the more of an awareness thing today for leaders to be aware, hey, this thing abstraction, but be conscious of the fact that your organization grows or you move up in an organization, maybe you’re a mid-level manager, you’re now a senior leader or global leader running huge divisions of a multibillion-dollar company, which is fantastic. But at the same point now your decisions impact that many more people and it sometimes becomes a little easier to make those decisions that can be painful in some cases. Not that they’re not right. Sometimes you gotta make those hard, right decisions, but it’s something that’s worth thinking about and just taking a moment to get the wheels to turn a little bit.
John: So I hope that was helpful today. Of course, as always, appreciate your feedback and your comments and your ideas and your suggestions and all that kind of good stuff. We have
some fantastic guests coming up in the next couple of weeks. So stay tuned for that. I am always interested in your suggestions on people that, you know, great leaders that you know, who made a big impact in your life, maybe transformed your organization. I’d love to hear from them. I’d love to get in touch with them. I’d love to bring them on the show and have them share their wisdom with the rest of the audience. So until then, thank you. Appreciate all your listening and your watching and go down below. Give feedback and reviews and we’ll see you next time. Thanks, everybody. Take care.
John (Closing): Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader. For suggestions, or inquiries, about having me at your next event, or personal coaching, reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org Once again, that’s email@example.com. Thanks! Lead on!