Category Archives: Behavior Change

Behavior Change

Positive Thinking, Mental Contrasting Plus WOOP to Improve Performance

Gabriele Oettingen

Gabriele Oettingen

Positive thinking without implementation strategies is wishful thinking.

It that may lead to complacence and poor performance, found NYU’s Gabriele Oettingen.
As an alternative, she advocates coupling an optimistic outlook with considering obstacles and potential ways to manage them, using a mnemonic WOOP:

  • Wish,
  • Outcome,
  • Obstacle,
  • Plan.
Andreas Kappes

Andreas Kappes

To mitigate reduced motivation triggered by wishful thinking, Oettingen and University of London colleague Andreas Kappas taught volunteers a “Mental Contrast” process.
This approach considers potential obstacles to desired future outcomes, and identifies ways to manage these challenges.

The team differentiated Mental Contrast from two less effective approaches to goal engagement:

  • Indulging by mentally elaborating only the desired future state,
  • Dwelling by mentally elaborating only the present reality.

These practices lead to less strong goal commitment than Mental Contrast, even when chances of success are good across interpersonal relations, academic achievement, professional achievement, health, life management experiences.

Mental Contrast was an effective self-regulatory technique when coupled with Implementation Intentions (MCII) to improve achievement, interpersonal, and health habits.

These trends changed when perceived chances of success were low:  Mentally Contrasting a desired future with present reality led to disengagement from goals.
However, Indulging in the future goal fantasy or Dwelling only in the present reality both maintained goal commitment.

Probability of Success-Mental Contrast-Indulve-Dwelling

In another study, volunteers who spent more time imagining working in a “dream job,” but who also had lower expectations of achieving this goal, received fewer job offers and lower starting salaries, found Oettingen and Doris Mayer of University of Hamburg.

They differentiated the motivational impact of:

  • Positive expectations for future success, which predicted high effort and successful performance,
  • Positive fantasies, which didn’t increase effort.

Mental Contrasting helped people disengage from unfeasible goals like rehabilitating an ended relationship or achieving an unattainable professional identity.
When chances of success are low, people Mentally Contrast desired future with present reality to move on to more feasible goals.

Similarly, Mental Contrasting linked negative thoughts about an undesirable future situation to avoidance goals when there’s a high probability of avoiding the undesired future.
This strategy can be useful for people with difficulty generating positive fantasies about future health status or reducing prejudice toward members of a minority or “out-group.”

When facing controllable and escapable tasks, people benefitted from Mentally Contrasting fantasy with reality.
However, when facing tasks that cannot be mastered such as terminal illness, Indulging in positive fantasies enabled people to maintain a positive outlook.

Volunteers who held a “silver lining theory” that a negative personal attribute is associated with a positive attribute, increased effortful performance toward the positive attribute when informed that:

  • They were impulsive,
  • The silver lining theory states that “impulsivity is associated with creativity.”
Timur Sevincer

Timur Sevincer

These on-line and in-person participants showed greater effort-based creativity than those who were given no information or for whom the silver lining theory was refuted.

The Silver Lining Theory increased performance and enabled people to mitigate a perceived negative attributes.
They did this by promoting effortful behavior toward a positive attribute linked to the negative attribute.

Mentally Contrasting a desired future (such as excelling in an intelligence test and writing an essay) with a present reality increased physiological energization measured by systolic blood pressure and grip strength to the degree a person expected to attain the desired future.

Mental contrasting may trigger energy activation that fuels effort to perform an unrelated task, concluded University of Hamburg’s A. Timur Sevincer and P. Daniel Busatta collaborating with Oettingen.

Philip Daniel Busatta

Philip Daniel Busatta

Coupling Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII) helped economically-disadvantaged children convert positive thoughts about future outcomes into effective action, found University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Lee Duckworth, Teri A. Kirby of University of Washington with NYU’s Anton Gollwitzer and and Oettingen.

Teri Kirby

Teri Kirby

Student volunteers learned to compare a desired future with potential obstacles, then developed if–then implementation intentions to potential outcomes.

More than 75 U.S. urban middle school 10 year olds were randomly assigned to learn either MCII or a Positive Thinking strategy as a control comparison.

Those who applied MCII tools to their academic goals significantly improved their report card grades, attendance, and conduct, suggesting the value of Mental Contrasting to enhance goal commitment and realization.

Mental Contrasting can be a powerful tool to increase motivation, particularly when coupled with Implementation Intentions.
The exception to this trend occurs when the probability of successfully achieving goals is low.
In those cases, Indulging or Dwelling strategies are more effective in maintaining goal motivation.

  • How have you seen Mental Contrasting and considering your probability of success to manage your motivation and performance?


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Defining Elusive Elements of “Executive Presence”

Fewer researchers have empirically investigated behaviors and characteristics associated with “Executive Presence” than the number of consultants offering recommendations on how to develop this quality and its potential association with career advancement.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

A previous blog post identified three characteristics associated with “executive presence” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation:  Communication, “Gravitas”, and Appearance.

Gavin Dagley

Interviews with 34 professionals, conducted by Perspex Consulting’s Gavin Dagley and Cadeyrn J. Gaskin, formerly of Deakin University, uncovered more elements than Hewitt’s proposed triad of qualities.

Caderyn Gaskin

They found that most executives described as having “presence” were men, reinforcing Hewitt’s assertion that women interested in career advancement should focus on conveying executive presence attributes to observers.

Dagley and Gaskin identified ten characteristics including those mentioned by Hewitt.
The first five characteristics are based on first impressions during initial contact:

  • Status and reputation, similar to “gravitas” discussed by Hewitt,
  • Physical appearance, also mentioned by Hewitt,
  • Confidence,
  • Communication ability, included in Hewitt’s “presence” triad,
  • Interpersonal engagement skills.

The final five attributes derive from evaluations over time during repeated contacts:

  • Interpersonal integrity,
  • Values-in-action,
  • Intellect and expertise,
  • Outcome delivery,
  • Coercive power.

These qualities combine in different ways to form four presence “archetypes”:

  • Positive presence, based on favorable impressions of confidence, communication, appearance, and engagement skills plus favorable evaluations of values, intellect, and expertise,
  • Unexpected presence, linked to unfavorable impressions of confidence plus favorable evaluations of intellect, expertise, and values,
  • Unsustainable presence combines favorable impressions of confidence, status, reputation, communication, and engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values and integrity,
  • “Dark presence” is associated with unfavorable perceptions of engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values, integrity, and coercive use of power.
Philippe De Backer

Philippe De Backer

Another typology of executive presence characteristics was identified by Sharon V. Voros and Bain’s Philippe de Backer.
They prioritized elements in order of importance to purportedly related life outcomes:

  • Focus on long term, strategic drivers,
  • Intellect,
  • Charisma, combining confidence, intensity, commitment, plus demeanor of care, concern and interest in others,
  • Communication skills,
  • Passion,
  • Cultural fit,
  • Poise,
  • Appearance.

Most people assume a relationship between “executive presence” and career “success,” even if the causal connection has not been demonstrated.

Fred Luthans

Fred Luthans

However, University of Nebraska’s Fred Luthans and Stuart Rosenkrantz with Richard M. Hodgetts of Florida International University investigated this relationship by observing nearly 300 managers from various levels at large and small mainstream organizations as they:

  • Communicated,
  • Engaged in “traditional management” activities, including planning, decision making, controlling,
  • Managed human resource issues.
Richard Hodgetts

Richard Hodgetts

Communication and interpersonal skills elements of “presence,” coupled with intentional “networking” and political acumen enabled managers to rapidly advance in their organizations.

Luthans and team identified these managers as “successful” leaders because they advanced more rapidly than “effective” managers, measured by participants’ organizational level compare with their organizational tenure.
In contrast, “effective” managers demonstrated greater managerial skill than “successful” managers, but were not promoted as quickly.

“Effective” managers spent most time managing human resource activities including:

  • Motivating/reinforcing,
  • Managing conflict,
  • Hiring/staffing,
  • Training/developing team members,
  • Communicating by exchanging information,
  • Processing paperwork.
Stuart Rosenkrantz

Stuart Rosenkrantz

Their subordinates reported more positive attitudes and behaviors than subordinates of “successful” managers for:

  • Job satisfaction,
  • Organizational commitment,
  • High team performance quality,
  • High team performance quantity.

Differences in advancement and subordinate reactions to “successful” and “effective” managers appear related to differing managerial behaviors.

Fred Luthans-Effective Managers“Successful” managers spent little time in managerial activities, but invested more effort in networking, socializing, politicking, and interacting with outsiders.
Their networking activities were most strongly related to career advancement but weakly associated with “effectiveness.”

Few managers were both “successful” and “effective”:  Only about 10% of volunteers were among the top third of both successful managers and effective managers.
These findings can lead to discouragement and cynicism, noting that effective managers who support employee performance may not be rewarded with advancement as rapidly as managers who prioritize their career over that of their employees.

These studies suggest that gravitas, communication, and political acumen may explain the gender difference for perceived “executive presence.”
Women who aspire to organizational advancement seem to benefit from cultivating both gravitas and proactive networking to complement communication and interpersonal skills.

-*Which behaviors and characteristics are essential to “Executive Presence”?

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Creating Productive Thought Patterns through “Thought Self-Leadership”

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis

Many leaders’ actions and decisions are influenced by internal commentaries and related judgments.
Often, these thoughts are self-critical, provoking apprehension and anxiety.

Aaron Beck

Aaron Beck

Cognitive Behavior Therapy, developed by University of Pennsylvania’s Aaron Beck, provides a systematic way to restructure sometimes irrational “self-talk“,  as do Albert Ellis‘s Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, and Stanford University’s David Burns‘ synthesis of these approaches.

David Burns

David Burns

Arizona State University’s Charles Manz and Chris Neck  translated these self-management concepts to managerial development.
They outlined a Thought Self-Leadership Procedure as a five-step feedback loop:

Charles Manz

Charles Manz

1. Observe and record thoughts,
2. Analyze thoughts,
3. Develop new thoughts,
4. Substitute new thoughts,
5. Monitor and Maintain new, productive thoughts.

-*What practices do you use to develop and apply productive thought patterns under pressure?

Chris Neck

Chris Neck


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Developing “Big 8” Job Competencies

George Hallenbeck

George Hallenbeck

Better job performance is associated with with eight capabilities known as “The Big 8”, according to Korn-Ferry International’s George Hallenbeck, in his analysis of Leadership Architect® library of competencies:

• Dealing with Ambiguity,
• Creativity,
• Innovation Management,
• Strategic Agility,
• Planning,
• Motivating Others,
• Building Effective Teams,
• Managing Vision & Purpose.

He analyzed more than 1500 ratings on this 360 degree assessment, and found that just 12% of executives possessed four or more of “The Big 8.”
None of these organizational leaders demonstrated more than six of these competencies, though they consistently showed more than individual contributors.
This suggests that although executives demonstrate more of critical leadership capabilities than non-leaders, the vast majority have significant room for professional development.

Daniel GolemanExecutives and individual contributors who had more of “The Big 8” competencies also had more of “Career Staller and Stopper” behaviors.
Bold individuals who demonstrate persistance may effectively execute, but may run afoul of key stakeholders and influencers.

Self-Awareness and Self-Management, identified in Daniel Goleman’s framework for Emotional Intelligence, may be a key to balancing between the Big 8’s performance enhancing impacts while mitigating their potential drawbacks in stalling careers.

-*What have you found the most important job competences among organizational leaders and those preparing for future leadership roles?

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Developing Executive Self Awareness to Enhance Leadership Impact

Vicki Swisher

Lack of self-awareness among organizational leaders is pervasive and costly, according to Korn Ferry’s Vicky Swisher and Evelyn Orr.
They studied executives using the FYI: For Your Insight assessment tool, based on research from FYI for Insight: 21 Leadership Characteristics for Success and 5 That Will Get You Fired.

Evelyn Orr

Evelyn Orr

Executives’ #1 blind spot tied between:

• Making tough people calls,
• Demonstrating personal flexibility, adapting approaches to new circumstances.

Similarly,  there was a near-tie the #1 leadership problem:
• Not inspiring employees, not building talent,
• “Too narrow”, relying on deep expertise without broadening perspective.

Leaders vastly underestimated their effectiveness in “managing up”, suggesting that they focused more on their next promotion, rather than on developing their employees.

Joe Luft

Joe Luft

Lack of self-awareness can be reduced by using a “Reality Check” including:

o Feedback from others to provide “early warning” of difficulty.
However, this requires that evaluators are willing to provide candid observations, despite widespread discomfort in providing corrective feedback.

o Self-reflection concerning effective and ineffective behaviors, documented in a journal for review.

Harry Ingham

Harry Ingham

Executives learned most to enhance leadership skills and self-reflection from on-the-job experiences, distantly followed by learning from other people.
Structured trainings are most costly and least effective to enhance leadership cognitive, emotional, motivational, self-awareness, and learning agility capabilities.

These leadership development processes reduce individual blind spots, portrayed by San Francisco State University’s Joe Luft and Harry Ingham of National Training Labs in The JoHari Window. johari-window

Korn Ferry’s Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger provided additional executive development recommendations based on research in FYI: For your Improvement, A Development and Coaching Guide (3rd Edition).

-*How do you increase your self-awareness at work and reduce your “blind spots” about yourself and others?

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Performance Excellence linked to Preventing Failures, Corrective Coaching

Atul Gawande

Simple behavior changes, such as following a structured checklist, can avert medical care disasters attributed to poor care, found Harvard’s Atul Gawande.

He noted that people who effectively improved their performance recognized fallibility in organizational processes, and took proactive steps to remedy these shortcomings.

Three elements of better performance can be applied to fields outside of medicine:

  • Diligence – Attending to details can prevent errors and overcome obstacles.
    Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right suggests best ways to structure these memory aids.
  • Doing Right –Ensuring that skill, will, and incentives are aligned to drive excellent performance,
  • IngenuityDeliberate monitoring of potential failures, continuously seeking innovative ways to improve performance and solutions.

All of these elements can be improved with attentive observation and feedback to prevent errors of omission when people don’t:

  • Know enough (ignorance),
  • Make proper use of what they know (ineptitude).

Ignorance occurs less frequently than ineptitude due to wide availability of relevant information, Gawande noted.
He argued that both types of omission errors can be improved by systematic analysis and disciplined use of tools like checklists.

Geoffrey Smart

Checklist-based analysis was also linked to Internal Rate of Return (IRR) in Geoffrey Smart’s study of investments by Venture Capital (VC) firms,

He found a correlation between IRR and leadership effectiveness in new investment ventures.
Since selecting capable leaders is critical to business outcomes, Smart also evaluated VC firms’ typical approach to assessing potential leaders:

  • The Art Critic is the most frequently-used approach in which the VC assesses leadership talent at a glance, intuitively, based on extensive experience,
  • The Sponge conducts extensive due diligence, researching and assimilating information, then decides based on intuition,
  • The Prosecutor interrogates the candidate, tests with challenging questions and hypothetical situations,
  • The Suitor woos the candidate to accept the leadership role instead of analyzing capabilities and fit,
  • The Terminator eliminates the evaluation because the venture is funded for the best ideas, not the originators, who are replaced,
  • The Infiltrator becomes a “participant-observer” in an immersive, time-consuming experientially-based assessment,
  • The Airline Captain uses a formal checklist to prevent past mistakes.
    This approach was linked to the highest average Internal Rate of Return (IRR) for the new ventures.
    In addition, this strategy was significantly less likely to result in later terminating senior managers.

Venture Capitalists said that two of their most significant mistakes were:

  • Investing insufficient time in talent analysis,
  • Being influenced by “halo effect” in evaluating candidates.

Systematic reminders to execute all elements required for expert performance can prevent failure and signal potential failure points.

-*How do you improve performance?
-*What value do you find in expert coaching?

Related Post:
Developing a SMARTER Mindset for Resilience, Emotional Intelligence – Part 2

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Ask a Narcissist

Confidence is correlated with career effectiveness and advancement.
However when people exhibit too much of a good thing, their behavior may seem “narcissistic.”

Jean Twenge

Jean Twenge

The narcissistic personality is characterized by:

Calvin S Hall

Calvin S Hall

One of the most frequently-used, well-validated assessment instruments to identify narcissism is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, developed by University of California Berkeley’s Robert Raskin and Calvin S. Hall, and used by researchers rather than by pre-employment screeners.

Sara Konrath

Sara Konrath

Raskin and UC Berkeley colleague, Howard Terry examined responses from more than 1000 volunteers and found seven constructs related to narcissism:

  • Authority,
  • Exhibitionism,
  • Superiority,
  • Vanity,
  • Exploitativeness,
  • Entitlement,
  • Self-Sufficiency.
Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary

In addition, Raskin and Terry related these ratings of “self” and “ideal self” to participants’ responses on the Leary Interpersonal Check List, developed by Harvard’s Timothy Leary before he investigated psychedelic drugs.

Brian P Meier

Brian P Meier

An alternative to Leary’s valid and reliable, yet lengthy and time-consuming NPI, University of Michigan’s Sara Konrath, Brian P. Meier of Gettysburg College, and Ohio State’s Brad J. Bushman of Indiana University developed The Single Item Narcissism Scale (SINS) to measure grandiosity, entitlement, and low empathy characteristic of “narcissistic” behavior.

They asked more than 2,200 participants to rate their answer to a single question on a scale of one to seven: To what extent do you agree with this statement? “I am a narcissist.”

Brad J Bushman

Brad J Bushman

Konrath’s team demonstrated SINS that is a valid and reliable alternative to longer narcissism scales because it is significantly correlated with scores on the NPI, and uncorrelated with social desirability, or lack of concern about what others think of them.

Erika Carlson

Erika Carlson

In addition, people who score high on the NPI and SINS are willing to admit that they act more arrogant, condescending, argumentative, critical, and prone to brag than people who score low on the NPI, according to findings by University of Toronto’s Erika Carlson.

Eleven validation studies of  the SINS conducted by Konrath’s team found narcissism related to:

People who scored high for narcissism also showed behaviors that can be problematic at work:

However, people who scored high for narcissism displayed positive attributes including:

If you think you’re working with a narcissist, you can confirm or disconfirm your inference by asking the person the single question: To what extent do you agree with this statement? “I am a narcissist.”
Interacting with a narcissist in the workplace can be challenging, and a previous blog post identifies recommended strategies.

-*How do you identify narcissists in the workplace and in personal life?
-*What are more effective ways to work with them?

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