Would you like to try a little experiment to track who in your team thinks he or she is the boss? It will only cost you a few biscuits and good observation skills. At your next meeting, bring in a plate of say 7 biscuits for 5 people and then watch what happens. Who will take the last biscuit? Probably no one: social etiquette dictates that it is not acceptable to grab the last biscuit. Ah, but what about biscuit number 6, after everyone has helped themselves to just one biscuit?
The person in your group who sees themselves as the boss is most likely to take the second last biscuit. Not only that, but they are also likely to be more casual about basic manners, eating with their mouths open and scattering crumbs about the place.
This experiment was first conducted by a group of psychologists[i] testing how real or would-be bosses behave vis-à-vis their subordinates. Not only is it a cute little experiment, but it beautifully illustrates a finding consistent across many studies. When people—independent of personality—have a bit of power, their ability to lord it over others causes them to (a) become more focused on their own needs; (b) become less focused on others’ needs, wants, and actions; and (c) act as if written and unwritten rules that others are expected to follow don’t apply to them.
A common brute or a disinhibited leader?
Or, of course, you could be the won lording it over others…. Not sure? Well, check your table manners. You’re either a common brute or a disinhibited chief. You’re pay cheque is likely to enlighten you as to which category you belong!
[i] Dacher Keltner, Deborah H. Gruenfeld, and Cameron Anderson conducted a series of experiments in 2003 to test how bosses (or would be bosses) tend to become oblivious of the needs of their followers.