How To Use Behavioural Psychology To Develop Outstanding Leaders

Ampersand Latest, Leadership - Human Resources

An article by Kim Grist, helps us discover how by using behavioural psychology across our teams, we can develop outstanding leaders. Kim Grist is the founding partner of Grist and a change management consultant. He has been a registered psychologist for over 25 years. As leaders, this is about what we try to attain all the time so let’s examine further.

Executing any strategy that requires a lasting change in human behaviour is one of the toughest challenges leaders will ever face. For people to change their behaviour they need to perceive it is of value to them. The old chestnut, what’s in it for me?”

Further, in a work setting, one of the biggest influences on whether people change their behaviour are the actions, support and direction of their leaders. So with this challenge in mind, proven theories of reinforcement and psychology give us some clear insights into why leadership behaviour is the key to people performance and successful execution of strategy.

Have a think about what you’re trying to achieve:

  • Do you want to increase overall performance capability of your team or organisation?
  • Do you want to increase the probability of your organisation or team achieving financial targets?
  • Do you want to increase the speed of decision making and execution?
  • Do you want to create a culture that is a competitive advantage and aligned to your strategy?

Kim, “If the answer to these questions is a definitive yes, then consider this. Your people aren’t usually the problem. Your leaders are more likely to be where the opportunity exists to make positive changes. Leadership behaviour is the key to shaping and sustaining the behaviours that will drive your strategy, so let’s look at some of the psychological principals of behaviour change to help explain why this is so.”

Continuous Reinforcement Develops New Behaviours

A leader’s continuous genuine reinforcement via conversations, feedback, coaching and goal setting is needed when an organisation sets a new strategy in place. Kim, ” People need to be clear about objectives and roles. Goal setting creates engagement and together with coaching and feedback leads to consistent higher performance. Strategic goals need to be translated into specific actions and then practiced and coached. The challenge is getting leaders to commit to coaching and feedback continuously in the early days of a new strategy.”

It’s Important To Reinforce Both Effort And Results

It’s tough changing the behaviour of lots of people, but if you recognise, coach and give feedback you create momentum which helps more people in the right direction. Initially the change needs more effort, a bit like trying to push a stalled car but once you get it going, the momentum speeds up and you get more change at a faster pace.

Kim, ” Too much focus on numbers alone limits potential and improved performance. Helping your people understand the impact of their behaviour on the results and providing focused behaviour development will give you a much better return on time you spend than simply talking about the numbers.”

Further, it’s harder to drive forward when you are looking in the rear view mirror. Not everyone will hit the desired numbers quickly so there will be little change unless leaders are willing to commit to becoming coaches that reinforce and recognise effort, output and results.

Create Opportunities For Natural Reinforcement From The Environment To Maintain The Behaviour

When leaders provide specific coaching and feedback in developing the right behaviours then the environment will sustain the behaviour and results. The more people practise the new behaviours and receive a positive response, the more they will be inclined to continue demonstrating the new behaviours.

Kim,” Natural reinforcers are things like customer responses, compliments, thanks, feeling a sense of satisfaction with applying new skills and achieving better results. They are intrinsic rewards which individuals get out of doing their best work. Success breeds more success.”

So the key is to go hard and often early with leading people and performance change. Get involved, set goals together, commit to coaching and provide feedback and positive reinforcement of the desired behaviours. Your people will grow in self esteem, competence, commitment and then become more engaged…whilst delivering discretionary effort.

Well it’s very straightforward. If we need to change our behaviour, then ask yourself, “What’s in it for me?” – a phrase I really dislike but one which needs to be understood to drive value based change.

I can start by suggesting a few ideas that should put a smile on your face:

  • Improve your self esteem
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Teamwork to make each day on the job one of caring and sharing
  • Step forward to become an Industry leader
  • Exceptional results to underpin a great lifestyle earned through hard work

I am sure there are more. Why not start by writing your own list and share your ideas with your team?

As leaders it is in our hands to promote the change needed to elevate our team to become automatic in their actions to outperform. When we assist our team to change behaviour we are also developing an organisational culture. This winning culture will be developed, shared and promoted by all our team. The fact highlighted is that people are not always the problem. We, as leaders must take the opportunity to make change. As leaders our behaviour is critical to the strategy to make positive change. Reinforce the ideas Kim has promoted, that is;

  • Continuous Reinforcement Develops New Behaviours
  • It’s Important To Reinforce Both Effort And Results
  • Create Opportunities For Natural Reinforcement From The Environment To Maintain The Behaviour

It is important that leaders commit to coaching and feedback,especially in the early days of a new strategy and helping people understand the impact of their behaviour on results. The idea is to go often and hard, set goals together and commit yourselves to coaching. All that is left to do now is to execute.


Sincerely in performance & play, work & life,

Hayley James


Job Search - Fresh Opportunities

Communications Lead – Social Impact

(Feature Opportunity)

Iconic Australian organisation is seeking a seasoned Communications Lead – Social Impact to join their dynamic team. Iconic organisation continuing to grow and innovate Social Impact communications 3 month contract – potential to extend, attractive… Read More

Senior Director Stakeholder & Consumer Engagement

(Feature Opportunity)

Career defining role as Senior Director, Stakeholder & Consumer Engagement for the Victorian State Government, Department of Health. The Changing Face of Health Career & Community Defining Impact Leadership | Inspiration | Progress Ampersand International… Read More

Ampersand Latest

Challenger Brands and Disruption

(Ampersand Latest)

Successful marketeers in 2019 will be those with an appetite for disruption and an ability to create and change, disrupt. CMO through Vanessa Mitchell looks at the approach used by Athena which plans to disrupt… Read More

In the News

Ampersand International Leadership Breakfast

(In the News)

Ampersand International is hosting a leadership breakfast at Vue de Monde on Wednesday 21st November. The exclusive breakfast will be led by Jason T. Smith, Founder and Group Director of the Back in Motion Health… Read More

Your Ampersand

Through understanding & authenticity we connect people with people, people with brands, people with possibility. Our clients & candidates feel optimistic, proud & valued.

We seize the opportunity to be your brand advocates because we know leadership when we see it.

Contract Resources Register with us Client Enquiries

Our event program

Ampersand’s quarterly event series exists to provide our client and candidate network with insightful, inspiring and challenging topics relevant to leadership, business of tomorrow, innovation and entrepreneurship.

If you’re interested in attending or speaking at an Ampersand event, please get in touch with us.



Learn More