Making Effective Leadership Catch On

Have you ever thought about ways to make what you do more “catchy” or attractive? I definitely have, and so I recently read the book “Contagious” by Jonah Berger that offers some research-based guidance for how anyone can practically do this. Jonah is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. According to his website, he studies “social epidemics, or how products, ideas, and behaviors catch on and become popular.” In other words, he studies what makes things cool. After building a decade of research in top peer reviewed journals, Jonah Berger has come up with six basic principles for making anything catch on. “Anything” could mean the practice of effective leadership.

Since I evaluate leadership development programs, I thought about how I could use Jonah’s principles to make evaluation surveys more compelling, since we know that just asking employees to rate something signals that it is important to the organization, and therefore individuals are more likely to pay attention to it. And so then, it is my hope that if I can make evaluation surveys more “catchy,” then leaders will be reminded of the importance of applying what they learned in their program when taking the evaluation survey several months after it ends.

Here, I’ve summarized Berger’s six principles and offer some implications for evaluation survey design. I only use evaluation surveys as one example of how leadership development professionals can apply these principles to their work.

  1. Increase the social currency of something because people share things that make them look good. Our Evaluation Center is trying out the use of new rating tools such as the graphic slider or pick group rank options now available from online survey platforms. Individuals might mention these surveys to others more often than they do the standard agreement style.
  2. Embed environmental triggers within the thing or idea you are looking to promote. On a survey, you could show a particular leadership model or graphic that was frequently shown during the training program. By strategically placing these types of reminders on the evaluation, you may trigger individuals’ thoughts of important course content or at least “warm” them up to taking a look back what they did in the program.
  3. Make people emotionally care about something because they will be more likely to share it. Consider posting a picture on the evaluation survey showing the participants engaged in a meaningful and thoughtful development activity. Who doesn’t like seeing something that reminds them of a positive experience?
  4. Turn private experiences into something that can be shared publicly and allow for there to be behavioral residue (i.e. postings about program experience on LinkedIn). At CCL, we have been experimenting with the social network site Yammer and allowing program participants to give feedback to facilitators. This allows individuals to build off each other’s comments about their developmental experience and connect in a way that was previously not possible.
  5. Give people practical tips that help them with wealth, health, and family. At CCL, we provide participants with some free post-program resources in our online community called myCCL. When approaching program alumni with a survey request, we also remind participants of everything that is available to support their development after the program. We also remind them that just taking a few minutes to complete our survey will jog their memories about what is important to remember from the program.
  6. Tell stories that contain information that has social currency, emotion, and practical value. Perhaps you can link the respondent to a thoughtful and informative video of someone who has been through a program and experienced transformative change and impact.

Can you think of other ways–beyond survey design–where we can leverage these principles to make effective leadership catch on?

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About Stephen Young

Stephen Young, Ph.D. was recently an Evaluation Post-Doctoral Fellow at CCL. At CCL, Steve partnered with CCL staff, clients, and external evaluators to identify organizational and leader needs, articulate program outcomes, and evaluate initiatives for improvement and impact. He also supported CCL and the field through the development of new knowledge, methods and approaches for the evaluation of leadership development. Currently, Steve is beginning a new job at Design Interactive in Florida. Other interests include employee engagement, feedback processes, empathy, and cyber-aggression in email. He holds a B.A. in psychology and political science from University of Connecticut, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology from Florida Institute of Technology.
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2 Responses to Making Effective Leadership Catch On

  1. avatar Ben Simonton says:

    Leadership is wildly misunderstood. That said, once people understand that leadership is based on why people do what they do (not leaders themselves) and what motivates us all, they become quite interested since they are people too. We all look differently, act differently and have grown up in different circumstances, but we all have the same values, the same basic needs, and ~95% of us are conformists. Understanding these, how every person operates, makes understanding leadership easy thus removing the mystery and complexities built in to leadership by educators, gurus, and consultants.

    Take a look at these two articles, the first defining leadership and the second making clear what good and bad leadership actually is.

    http://tinyurl.com/k52pgvp
    http://tinyurl.com/n4cco2f

  2. avatar Linda S. Landov, LCSW says:

    Dear Dr. Young,
    Thank you for these suggestions. I am self employed in the behavioral health field and am always looking for ways to promote myself in a thoughtful way. I’m interested in setting up a website that will provide relevant information and links to resources. Your points reinforce the need to be user friendly and to find a method to receive useful feedback.
    Any input is appreciated.
    And congratulations on your new position in Orlando! I’m familiar with the area.
    Linda S. Landov, LCSW

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