Why Leaders Need to Learn from the Social Sciences

We all know it’s better to “teach a man to fish” rather than just feed him dinner. But do we apply that same concept to our leadership?

Leadership isn’t just about short-term motivation. It’s about enticing real change.

True leaders know their role isn’t limited to motivating people to move from A to B. Instead, they intentionally influence people to change their behaviour.

Here’s the problem: we often view leadership from a strictly motivational perspective, but it’s far more than that. Our ability to be effective as leaders isn’t just about motivating — it’s about equipping others with the tools they need to change.

Courage, inspiration, and vision are essential components to leadership, but if these skills don’t help others change their behaviour, we fail.

For example, what do video games, prison, obesity, and smoking have in common?

They’ve all been heavily influenced by effective leaders. Each of these social science outcomes reveal the significant results of influence.

People spend three billion hours playing online games every week.

Video game designers understand influence. What makes gaming worth three billion hours each week?  Understanding this appeal helps us better lead and influence others.

7 million people (1 in 34 ) in the United States are under the supervision of the correctional system.

We lock up more people today than we did 50 years ago, and it’s not because people are different. Crime rates have risen because our environment has changed profoundly. Unless we understand how our culture changed and use that knowledge to bring positive change, we won’t be true leaders.

Worldwide obesity has doubled since 1980.

The drastic increase in obesity rates came from behaviours, actions, choices. It isn’t just the result of genetics. Leaders with the economic incentive for people to eat more have developed strategies to influence what and how much we eat. Remember, leadership is intentional influence. Clearly, those who benefit from food consumption lead effectively.

Smoking rates in the United States have dropped from 44% to 21% since 2008.

This positive change also occurred because of a change in influence. The people who pushed to influence against smoking cut smoking rates in half.

What can we learn about influence from such drastic positive results?

Leaders have influenced people to log in, lock up, and eat up… but not light up.

These leaders have brought about change (good and bad) because they know how to influence people. Once we learn how to influence, the positive possibilities are endless.

How might you use your role as a leader to do more than motivate and actually influence intentionally?

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