The term mob mentality was first circulated by the 19th century psychologists Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon. This term specifically describes the characteristics that emerge when people coagulate themselves into large groups of individuals. These characteristics are often referred to negatively and conjure up pictures of the mob brutality and anarchy in Charles Dickens’, A Tale of Two Cities.
General reference to the herd mentality does not usually refer to the beheading of the aristocracy and the destruction of entire parliament houses. It usually involves a simplistic element of peer pressure, in which people are encouraged to do something they normally wouldn’t do (jump off a cliff, smoke a cigarette, etc). The large group performs the act as a whole and the individuals partake in the experience due to an inherent fear of being left behind by the group. People fear that if they do not succumb to peer pressure they will be outcast from the group and left to fend for themselves … alone.
However, to be a leader sometimes is to be alone. As a leader, you have to consistently keep your head up and focus on all the options in front of you. You can’t let yourself get lost in the details … in things that don’t push you forward. Sometimes you have to migrate away from the herd in order to find your next path … the open door that will eventually lead you to the next big thing.
How many times have you been standing in a really long line to get into your favorite restaurant or the airport? Your head is down, immersed in your phone or otherwise preoccupied. You eventually ask yourself, “Why am I waiting in this line? Why is this line so long?” Surely this is the only option, you tell yourself. All other options have been checked. You eventually snap out of it and realize there that there is another door that no one else is using. When you step out of the line and head to the door you think to yourself … what if it’s not open? What will people think of me? Will they let me back in the line if it’s not open? People question themselves when they deviate from the norm. This fear based mentality has evolved over time in order to prevent individuals from being left behind by the group. However, when you find the door is open what happens? People start flocking to the new path and start questioning themselves as to why they didn’t think of it first.
As a leader you should never be afraid to make a decision based on your assessment of the current situation. You must realize that you have a unique perspective and a voice through which you can express your own personal thoughts and opinions. It has been shaped by decades of knowledge and experience. No one can take that away from you.
I was told a long time ago by a wise old man that as a leader, you must know when to lead and when to follow. This has become my mantra over the course of my career. Sharing with people your vision is just as important as working hard to make sure their ideas become realities. As a leader, you can’t force people to follow you. It is up to you to invite them on your journey.