Why office babblers tend to be leaders

• Leadership often emerges based on who speaks the most.
• It’s not about the quality but the quantity.
• A gender bias favors men.

Does babbling in the office make you a leader?

According to a new study, those that speak more often tend to become leaders — not necessarily for what they have to say, but especially in groups that lack leadership.

Research published in The Leadership Quarterly tested the “babble hypothesis,” a theory claiming that the amount of time someone speaks, not the quality, determines whether they’re a leader or not.

“We usually think of leadership as being very content-driven — someone says important things, so we follow them — yet here was pretty consistent evidence that people seemed to attribute leadership to people who ‘babbled,’ or just spoke a lot,” said lead author Neil G. MacLaren.

“Trying to understand this relationship between speaking time and attributions of leadership seemed like an important step in understanding group dynamics more generally.”

How leadership emerges

Researchers had more than 30 different numbered groups of college students participate in two computer simulation games, one that was military or business-themed. Each participant was given 10 minutes to plan how they would go about their task, while as groups, they were allocated an hour to tackle it together.

In the game, one person was randomly called the “operator,” or the person responsible for dictating decisions. Once the planning of the simulation and gameplay were completed, group members were asked to designate who they thought was the leader of the group.

The researchers said they spotted a trend: students that were nominated as leaders spoke more often than others.

Battles of the sexes

Gender also played a role. Even though the groups featured both male and female students, leadership often emerged amongst men.

“There is another take away that is an important corollary we address in the paper: the gender bias in leadership attributions. In our data, men receive on average an extra vote just for being a man. The effect is more extreme for the individual with the most votes,” one researcher told PsyPost.

“This bias does not appear to be strongly associated with any observable indicators of participation quality, just with gender. Although the information about leadership attributions we gather in the lab can seem somewhat contrived, it’s important to remember that many of us provide attributions of others regularly in the form of performance evaluations at work or in hiring decisions. To me, evidence like that presented in our paper should motivate us to find better, more objective ways to determine performance quality and potential.”