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Behavioral Science Tips For CEO Leadership


When it comes to the craft of leadership, what can we learn from the front lines of behavioral science? Plenty.

In a useful piece for Chief Executive, Caroline Webb, a former McKinsey partner and author of How to Have a Good Day, explores what researchers now know about cognition and behavior triggers, and delves into the impacts on decision making, planning and creative work. Along the way, she’s picked up some useful tricks to help manage all of these a lot more effectively.

“Many leaders have the right instincts on how to do this in their teams,” says Webb, who will be a keynote speaker on this topic at our upcoming “Lead Better, Live Better” masterclass alongside Marshall Goldsmith on July 19. “But we can do better than instinct because behavioral science is increasingly clear and precise on what it takes to encourage those human strengths in ourselves and others.”

We hope you can tune in to hear her on July 19—or at least get a chance to read the article, but for now, here’s one pragmatic tip she shared that is worth putting in play right away:

  • Challenge: Better performance in crisis moments. Research finds “surprisingly stark intellectual impairment” when people feel even mildly threatened—and not just physically. And, unfortunately, “this defensive reaction tends to happen just at the point when people need to rise to a challenge.”

  • Solution: Reframe the issue to unstick your people. How? “Instead of leading with statements like: ‘OK guys, this is bad, we have to fix this,’” says Webb, “a leader with a basic understanding of behavioral science might have learned to deploy one or two positive framing questions to help get their colleagues off the defensive. For example, they might ask something like: ‘When have we solved problems well in the past? And what does that tell us about what we might do now?’ Or: ‘When we look back in a year’s time, what will we be proud of having done in this moment?’

“These sorts of questions aren’t glossing over the problem,” says Webb. “The team still needs to understand what’s gone wrong. But by framing the problem in a way that re-injects a sense of possibility and purpose, a skillful leader can do a great deal to boost the collective IQ their team can bring to the table.” And win. Like I said: useful. Read the full article | Learn more about the masterclass >

Dan Bigman, editor, Chief Executive.


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  • The Uber files. Hundreds of thousands of leaked Uber documents obtained by The Guardian and shared with a consortium of news outlets show how during its most aggressive period of growth, the ride-hailing company reportedly employed secret technology to thwart police investigations, sought favors from high-ranking government officials and allegedly took other extreme measures to expand aggressively. (CNN Business)

  • Get employees invested. Crowdsourcing innovation typically leads to a flood of bad or useless ideas, but PayPal created a process that addresses this issue: It involves a blockchain-based token system that lets employees place wagers on ideas. (HBR)

  • Turning Israel’s tech on China. A long-running U.S. effort to steer Israel’s tech industry away from China had yielded only patchy results, but now it seems to be working. Ties between Israel’s tech sector and China have eroded in recent years, threatening to cut off a key remaining option for Beijing to access strategically important technology. (Bloomberg)
Upcoming Events

Leading Through Inflation: A Playbook For What’s To Come
Access the on-demand recording | Live event recorded March 24, 2022
Keynote: Ram Charan, World-Renowned Business Advisor, Author and Speaker

Lead Better, Live Better

July 19, 2022 | 1:00 - 4:00 pm ET | Live, Online 

Exclusive Masterclass featuring Bestselling Author and World-renowned CEO Coach Marshall Goldsmith

CEO Talent Summit
September 28, 2022 | Live, Online
Keynote: Bill George, Former Chairman and CEO, Medtronic; Co-Author, True North: Emerging Leaders Edition

Leadership Conference

November 3-4, 2022 | Denver, CO and Online
Keynote: Jim Collins, Bestselling Author of Good to Great, Built to Last and Turning the Flywheel

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