Vaccines, COVID-19 and Leading by Example
- U.S. politicians have led the charge in fighting COVID-19 by getting publicly vaccinated.
- Research shows that leading by example can lead to followers helping others more.
- If leaders demonstrate a commitment to fighting COVID-19, others will follow.
Joe Biden, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi. Besides being politicians, what do they all have in common? Each of them recently received the COVID-19 vaccine. Does it matter that politicians on both sides of the aisle (Democrats and Republicans) very publicly receive the vaccine?
Yes it does!
Right now, 60 percent of Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available to them now. This is encouraging in that the number is rising (in September, only 51 percent of Americans reported this). However, it is discouraging that 40 percent of Americans would not receive the vaccine.
So how do public vaccinations of politicians play into this?
By very publicly getting vaccinated, these leaders are sending a message that it is the safe, ethical and compassionate thing to do. They are leading by example, modeling good behavior for all Americans to follow.
In the past, I have written about how leading by example can increase positive attitudes about diversity in general as well as diversity training in specific. A study by Tal Yaffe and colleagues (2011) looked at how leading by example can affect followers in another way: by increasing helping behaviors.
Their study examined 683 employees (managers and subordinates) at a large communication organization and found a number of interesting results:
- The more leaders exhibited helping behaviors, the more their followers did the same. In this study, researchers examined “helping behaviors” broadly. For instance, they looked at behaviors that help the organization in general (such as “defending the organization” or “showing pride when representing the organization”) as well as generally going above and beyond as an employee (such as “making constructive suggestions for improving things”).
- Additionally, the authors of this study examined why leaders exhibiting helping behaviors led to followers doing the same. What they found was that leaders acting this way led to followers believing in the importance of acting this way. For instance, followers agreed with statements such as going above and beyond at work is “worthy although not formally required” and also “generally valuable . . . even if these efforts are not paid for.” It seems the followers engaged in these helping behaviors not just to mimic their leaders and try to get on their good side — instead, they appeared to truly believe these behaviors were important — all stemming from watching their leaders.
Thinking about how this applies to the current pandemic, isn’t getting vaccinated a great way of helping others (in addition to yourself)? By getting vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself, but you are also helping to stop the spread so less people will die.
The nature of a pandemic is different from many other challenges in that what one person does affects others and everyone has to be part of the solution. COVID-19 will not be stopped unless everyone works together — and with more than 300,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, we need to stop this crisis.
Therefore, we need leaders at all levels to act as role models and model good behavior. If leaders act responsibly to stop the virus, others will follow their example and do the same — and believe in its importance and value as well.
Wear a mask, socially distance, get vaccinated — together, we can stop the virus!
 Yaffe, T., & Kark, R. (2011). Leading by example: The case of leader OCB. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(4), 806–826.
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