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The Benefits of Behavioral Fitness & Positive Leadership


Por Lee Newman
Profesor en Ciencias del Comportamiento
Decano de Ciencias Humanas y Tecnología

The Benefits of Behavioral Fitness & Positive Leadership


Today’s CEOs need to act more like CBOs—chief behavioral officers—if they want to get the most out of their employees. At the end of the day, the only way to achieve financial objectives is through human capital. Creating positive environments, nurturing employees’ mindware, and providing behavioral training are the foundation of a leadership style based on positivity

For most executives, leadership is about the pursuit of business and financial objectives. Although such goals are essential for any organization, they can distract senior leaders from their true leadership mission: ensuring that the people within the organization perform at their best. Numerical objectives are results of leadership, but it is only people who can be truly led.

From CEO to CBO

Staff involvement and positive behavior are essential to any company’s success. Today’s CEOs must therefore act more like CBOs: Chief Behavioral Officers. In this new role, business leaders focus on creating an environment that facilitates high performance from every employee and every team. As Sir Ken Robinson noted in his renowned TED Talk, the true role of leadership is not about command and control, but climate control -- creating the conditions under which people can thrive. When this happens, the impossible becomes possible.

Dean Newman takes this one step further, and sees the CBO as an “experience designer”. Drawing on the same best practices now being used in many companies to optimize their customer experience, CBO’s design organizational structures, organizational climate, team and individual incentives, and the overall culture of the company to foster great employee experiences. Trust, safety, permission to innovate and fast-fail, incentives that reward sharing across units and functions – these are just some of the examples of the levers that CBO’s have at their disposal in designing employee experience.

The business world needs these CBO’s. Why? Because study after study shows that across sectors and countries, employee engagement is too low. For example, Gallup finds that only about 15% of global employees are fully engaged in their jobs, and even in the countries with the highest engagement this figure is only 35%. This means that the vast majority of employees are partially engaged or actively disengaged from their work. The mission of the CBO is to ensure in his/her company that the proper conditions are in place to engage employees, enabling them to innovate, to work autonomously and to develop and use their strengths to the fullest degree.

More engagement

Positive leadership can address this challenge with three very powerful tools:

  1. Training mindware: Just as software and hardware must be updated, mindware—the mental processes that direct thought—can also be trained and developed to help people do their jobs better. Psychology and behavioral studies have given us mechanisms for helping people understand their own thinking processes, and to train themselves to think and make decisions with much higher quality. For example, the work of the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman sheds light on the many “biases” in thinking and decision making that we have, and techniques from behavioral decision making can help employees learn to use higher quality ways of reasoning and making their decisions. Another example is the practice of mindfulness, which offers employees a practical way to train themselves to better manage their attention – a critical component that we use in every meeting, conversation, or task.
  2. Cultivating positive environments: Beyond focusing on individual behavior and decision making, leaders as CBO’s need to focus on developing an work climate that maximizes employee performance. We know that employee well-being is associated with better results for the organization. To create a positive environment, the emotional aspects of employees’ day-to-day circumstances must be addressed, with an eye to reducing negativity and boosting positivity. Negative emotions have at least twice as much impact people psychologically as positive emotions. By measuring these emotions over time using simple questionnaires, the company can determine the prevailing level of positivity or negativity in each department. Simple actions—holding meetings, communicating more fluidly and transparently—can encourage positive emotions to flourish. Talent development and training make people more passionate and more likely to seek out new challenges.
  3. Behavioral training: Like fitness programs designed by professional coaches to help people train their bodies, Behavioral Fitness is about identifying a few “behavioral muscles” (unproductive behaviors) that could use training, and using the workplace as a kind of “behavioral gym” in which employees consistently work on training these behaviors to be more productive. These are behaviors for example, more active listening, being more open-minded, being more structured in speaking and communicating, and being more patient in team contexts. The challenge is that the brain hard-wires bad habits, and as a result changing a work place behavior can be very difficult. Drawing on the neuroscience of habits, Dean Newman presented a framework called “Habit Hacking” that provides a structured and gamified way for people to increase the changes of succeeding in their behavior change goals.

These tips can help business executives to increase employee engagement and exercise positive leadership. As staff performance improves, so will the company’s bottom line.

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