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This chapter is from the book

Change Leadership and the Human Sciences

  • “Of all the subjects which he might undertake to formally study, none is more important for the businessman-to-be than human behavior.”
  • —Wallace Donham, 2nd Dean of Harvard Business School, 1919–1942

Some of the change leadership skills required by local leaders are attracting resources, resolving conflicts, streamlining decision making, negotiating, influencing, coaching, removing obstacles, handling risks, motivating people to solve problems, and establishing the right governance structure. Those skills depend on theories of what makes people tick and how they respond in various situations.

The Science of Successful Organizational Change looks at the assumptions and understanding of human behavior that lie behind those skills. Influencing skills, for example, depend upon assumptions about motivation, communication, social factors, power and resistance, how information is processed, what changes beliefs, and how beliefs change behavior. For example, if the underlying fabric of assumptions is flawed, the influencing skills (as recommended by hundreds of books) will be less effective.

Much contemporary understanding of human behavior in business comes to us through the discipline of psychology (and sister field, social psychology). However, human behavior is much more complex than any single field can explain, describe, or predict. Consider the raft of tools used by HR: personality types, psychometric assessments, engagement surveys, emotional intelligence, communications skills, motivational concepts, happiness/satisfaction, trait and behavioral models of leadership, coaching, self-esteem, learning style, and theories. All are based on psychology, and are somewhat useful when used correctly. As you’ll see in Chapter 6, “Misunderstanding Human Behavior,” the psychology on which they are based is a narrow, young field, whose status as a science is mixed.

Many interesting insights come from the intersection of psychology and other disciplines, such as economics. From just the nexus of psychology and economics, we get economic behavior, decision-science, incentives, predictive rationality, heuristics, cognitive biases, and other insights not always found in traditional psychology texts (nor, may I suggest, in the toolkit of most organizational change consultants). The business leader and change consultant with only psychological insight at her disposal is playing golf with a single club in her bag.

This book promises a science-based treatment of change leadership that takes the newest ideas in psychology but also introduces concepts from other human sciences. The word cloud in Figure 1.1 illustrates just how rich this area is and the sorts of ideas soon to be discussed.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 Human sciences with essential perspectives on change leadership.

Some of these subjects, such as neuroscience, are already much discussed in the change leadership world. As I will show, neuroscience does not quite measure up in usefulness to the amount of media attention that it receives. Other terms, such as complexity and emergence, are thrown around but are very much misused, and I will clarify what they really mean and offer some tools for working with them. Other areas, such as evidence-based medicine, the psychology of risk, and neobehaviorism are relatively underrepresented relative to their usefulness.

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