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Leadership as Science of Behavior Published: Sunday, June 21, 1998 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

Executives, professionals, teachers and managers are all in the behavior management business. Organizations and management have become so complex that it is time to surpass common sense and start using scientific knowledge. It is very risky these days to depend solely on intelligence acquired in ordinary business and living, pursuing information on an individual basis, accepting the very obvious, in a vague manner, gained through uncontrolled experience and not producing the desired results. On the other hand, it is possible to learn management as a scientific enterprise venture, deliberately and systematically pursuing knowledge, in a comprehensive manner, questioning the obvious, in a more precise way, through a controlled experiment, yielding concrete results. Knowledge professionals should acquaint themselves with the general theory of behavior, through guided sessions for developing skills in market, organizational and people analysis, thus, raising concrete information on how to achieve goals and results.

The science of behavior is often related to behavior modification venture, but it has expanded in a vortex that has swept in vicarious and observational learning, cognitive behaviorism and verbal self-control, imagery and information science. It now includes theoretical and empirical concepts of skills analysis, delay of gratification, learned resourcefulness, control theory, self-efficacy, commitment theory, relapse prevention, neo-Vygotskian developmental theory, decision making, attribution theory, and rule-governed behavior. This enrichment has provided key conceptual links that have made the science of behavior more coherent, understandable and integrated.

This field of knowledge points to three dimensions of every behavior:

  • Choice (competitive selection of one behavior from all behaviors that are activated by the situation);
  • Motivation (energizing the behavior selected);
  • Variation and Novelty (internal and external determinants of behavior that are so diverse, numerous and interactive, making the simplest behavior novel in some sense).

Behavior is anything that an individual does, any observable reaction or interaction with the environment. Performance is a kind of behavior that interacts with the environment. The environment acts on performance through antecedents and consequences. New performances act on the environment to generate new consequences.

There is the ABC model of behavior defining Antecedent (something that comes before behavior which sets the occasion for that behavior), Behavior (what the individual does), Consequence (what happens to people as a result of their behavior). This model of behavior change departs from antecedents (setting event), behavior (performance), and consequences (reinforced or punished). A very strong predicament of the science of behavior is that behavior is governed by consequences, not antecedents. Reinforcers are consequences that strengthen behavior. Punishers are consequences that weaken behavior.

There are some key points to remember. The ABC model is ongoing. Antecedents produce only temporary improvement in performance. Consequences maintain behavior. Immediate consequences have greater impact than delayed consequences. Positive consequences generate more behaviors than negative ones. Positive reinforcement is the only way to capture extra or discretionary behavior. A result is a consequence of performance that has an impact on the bottom line. Every result is a consequence of someone’s performance. Executives are held responsible for results, but often they can only influence results through the performance of others. That is why leadership is to cause others to perform is ways that produce desired results.


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