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Who Does Your Boss Trust More – You Or Google?

We live in a world where we are more likely to listen to the phone in our hands or a Google Home device than friends or colleagues.
We live in a world where we are more likely to listen to the phone in our hands or a Google Home device than friends or colleagues.
  • Insecure leaders ignore advice from humans, even if they’re considered experts
  • They’ll accept advice from a machine as they’re not seen as competition
  • However, insecure leaders are most likely to benefit from expert advice

Has somebody ever told you something or answered a question, and instead of accepting their input at face value you’ve instead immediately checked it on Google, just to be sure?

We’ve all given a friend advice; whether on what steps to take in a career or on what to do in a relationship, only for it to be ignored – often to their own detriment. But when it comes to Google, we’ll happily accept anything it says.

We ask Google for advice daily, ask Alexa what the temperature is outside, and even if we should wear a coat. We live in a world where we are more likely to listen to the phone in our hands or a Google Home device than friends or colleagues. According to research from BI Norwegian Business School, this is the tendency for certain people in leadership positions, putting themselves at a disadvantage.

Psychologist and PhD candidate Ingvild Müller Seljeseth and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments to test who leaders would take advice from. They asked participants to estimate the number of peas in a jar. Some participants were assigned to stable leadership positions and others to unstable leadership positions, which they would lose if they made a wrong decision. Leaders in a stable position were far more likely to accept advice from a previous participant on the number of peas than leaders in an unstable position.

Participants were then asked to predict the future stock prices of four companies and given advice by either a data algorithm or a previous human participant. The unstable leaders were more likely to accept advice from the data algorithm than another human being.

Seljeseth explains that leaders in unstable positions ignore advice because of how it would look if they did take it, “leaders in an insecure position feel stressed so become rigid in their thinking and stick to their own decisions. They also feel at risk of being perceived as incapable or indecisive if they take advice from someone else. These insecure leaders are more willing to accept advice from the data algorithm as machines are not perceived as competing with them, unlike a human being.”

As the insecure leaders were unwilling to listen to a human, the researchers wanted to explore if they would be more likely to accept advice if it came from someone labelled as an expert. When told whether the advice came from a prominent expert or someone of average competence, the leaders in a stable position paid more attention to the expert. However, the leaders in an unstable position remained reluctant to take advice from another human.

The findings from these studies show that insecure leaders who are in danger of losing their position feel too threatened to accept advice from another human, even an expert, so are more likely to take advice from a machine.

Seljeseth continues, “this is a big concern, as leaders have to constantly make decisions that are in the best interest of their organisations, and better decisions are going to be made by leaders who are open to advice and suggestions from others. Nevertheless, we see time and time again that leaders make decisions on their own without paying attention to feedback or suggestions.”

Ironically, although leaders in unstable roles are the least willing to take advice, Seljeseth says they are presumably the most likely to benefit from it, as maintaining their position often relies on making the right decisions.

But how can we convince these leaders to take advice?

Organisations that want to increase the likelihood of a leader following advice may feel tempted to create irrevocable leadership positions to diminish the threat of them losing the position. However, hierarchies at work are dynamic and constantly evolving so leadership positions that are constant and unchanging are not ideal. Instead, Seljeseth advises that people wanting to influence a leader in an unstable position may benefit from framing any advice as computer-generated to make them feel less apprehensive about how taking the advice looks to others.

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