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Follow My Leader

The power of influence

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the ways in which others influence us, and the power we have to influence others.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Follow My Leader) and the means to display them.


  1. Have Slide 1 displayed as the students enter the room.

  2. Show Slide 2.

    Ask the students what they would do in the following scenario. They are walking down the street and have just eaten a snack. They are holding the leftover packaging, such as a banana skin or a drink carton. What would they do with it?

    Either ask the students to turn and tell the person next to them or select a couple of volunteers to answer. Responses may include:

    - put it in the bin
    - throw it on the floor
    - take it home to recycle/compost it
    - put it in a pocket

  3. Show Slide 3.

    Some researchers wanted to discover the answer to this question, too. In particular, they were interested in whether the actions of other people influenced the way people dispose of their own rubbish. In 2008, a group of behavioural scientists tested how likely people were to drop litter. They found that in an environment like this picture shows (point to the image on the left), where there was already evidence of other people dropping litter or doing graffiti in the area, people were far more likely to drop litter themselves. In an environment where there was no graffiti or evidence of other people leaving litter (point to the image on the right), less than half as many people dropped litter themselves. So, despite what we might think, it seems that many of us are influenced by the example of others.

  4. Show Slide 4.

    How about in this scenario? You see a stamped, addressed envelope hanging halfway out of a postbox. You notice that the envelope hasn’t been stuck down fully, and you can see that it contains a pile of cash. What would you do?

    Either ask the students to turn and tell the person next to them or select a couple of volunteers to answer. Responses may include:

    - seal the envelope properly and then post it
    - hand-deliver the letter yourself
    - push the envelope into the postbox
    - do nothing
    - take the envelope for yourself

  5. Again, this scenario formed part of the 2008 study by the behavioural scientists. They found that when there was no litter around the postbox, only 13 per cent of people took the envelope for themselves. However, when there was litter around the postbox, the theft rate nearly doubled, with 25 per cent of people stealing the envelope.

    The study found that when people observe that others have acted in an antisocial way, it encourages them to act similarly. We may like to think that we know our own mind and are not influenced by others, but this study suggested otherwise.

  6. Babies learn very quickly by imitation, by copying the actions of others. Many of us will have realized that we can get babies or toddlers to copy our silly noises or faces. It might be fun to watch, however, as the behavioural scientists’ study proved, it’s not just babies who copy the behaviour of others. We are all influenced by the behaviour of people around us.

  7. Of course, another way to look at this is to realize the potential we have to influence others. We can set an example and lead other people in a good way. Our actions can be a positive influence on other people. Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule, famously said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’

    Show Slide 5.

    If we want to see a fairer society, we have the power to achieve that through our own actions and example of justice. Each one of us here has the potential to be a leader, a role model and an example to others.

Time for reflection

Let’s think about the sorts of qualities and values we would like to influence others with. What sort of world and society do we want for ourselves, and for our loved ones?

The answer to that question can help us to choose how we want to act, and the values we choose to live by. These choices and values will, in turn, influence others.

Perhaps one way to answer the question is to think of role models we admire and look up to. What sorts of values do they embody? Take a moment to think about that question.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Perhaps some of the people on these slides are role models you thought of.

Show Slide 6.

What about Gareth Southgate, the England football manager? In this picture, we see him comforting the Colombian player who missed the crucial penalty in Colombia’s World Cup match against England. Many people admire Southgate for living out the value of kindness. In fact, he has also proved to be a role model in terms of fashion, with Marks & Spencer reporting a 35 per cent increase in sales of waistcoats during the World Cup despite the hot weather in the UK.

Show Slide 7.

Another role model we may have thought of is Malala Yousafzai. She was only 11 years old when she blogged for the BBC about living in Pakistan while the Taliban was threatening to close schools for girls. She campaigned for the rights of girls to be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, but survived and went on to become the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, aged just 17. Yousafzai is now at university, and continues to campaign for justice and human rights. Many people admire her for living out the value of courage.

Show Slide 8.

For some of us, our role model may be someone closer to home: a family member perhaps – a parent, a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle or a grandparent.

A 2007 survey suggested that teenagers in the UK look to their parents as role models much more than celebrities. Who in your family, or in your family’s wider support network of friends, do you consider a positive role model? What sort of values do they live out?

Pause to allow time for thought.

As we reflect upon the values that others demonstrate, let us consider the values that we want to live out in our own lives. What values do we want to influence others with?

Show Slide 9, clicking through to reveal each of the words. Allow a pause after each word.

Let us take a moment to consider which of these values we can commit to aiming towards.

Dear God,
We often like to think of ourselves as being free to make our own decisions.
We thank you that you have given us free will, but we also acknowledge that we can be influenced by the behaviour and example of others.
Help us to use this power to influence others in a positive way.
We pray for the wisdom to make choices that help to show kindness, forgiveness, generosity, honesty, fairness and compassion to others in our world.
Help us to treat other people, animals and our wider environment with respect.
We pray also for people in positions of power who have the potential to be particularly influential role models to others.
Help them to exercise their leadership in a way that benefits others.

Publication date: October 2018   (Vol.20 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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