5 Steps to Positive Leadership


Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D (bSci21.org)

Manny Rodriguez, M.A. (ABA Technologies)

Dawn Mackey & Jamie Pagliaro (Rethink)

What is leadership from a behavior analytic perspective?  This was the question addressed by by Manny Rodriguez, M.S., Vice President of ABA Technologies, in a recent webinar hosted by Dawn Mackey at Rethink.  His message was straightforward – leadership encapsulates a set of behaviors that are measureable, observable, and applicable to our everyday lives.  Leadership behaviors are ultimately evaluated based on their effects on followers.

A leader holds a responsibility to act, to make change happen, and to sustain change over time. Leadership also evolves as society evolves.  For example, new technologies such as the Internet have given rise to work teams scattered across wide distances.  Rules and regulations, such as BACB certification standards, healthcare reform, or the tax laws of your particular state require leaders to adapt policies and procedures to ensure a healthy bottom line.  Lastly, new organizational models, such as the so-called “Teal Organizations” structured with flat autonomous teams, develop over time which drive changes in leadership style.

To be an effective leader ultimately means you have to influence others in a positive way. Leaders play a crucial role in responding to feedback from the marketplace, and from internal departments, to restructure the Interlocking Behavioral Contingencies that comprise the work processes of the organization.

Manny provided five tips for ensure effective leadership:

Set Clear Expectations and Goals

Effective leaders provide clear and concise goals for their employees, and provide the means to achieve said goals through the provision of resources and frequent performance feedback.  Clarity begins with a well-written job description that clearly links to the mission of the company, from which specific goals can follow.  Many people find the SMART acronym useful in goal setting (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Oriented).

Monitor Performance

In order to know if your employees are meeting expectations, you need to measure their goal-directed performance.  Measuring performance can involve measuring behavior as well as outcomes.  In sales, for example, performance is relevant to sales techniques, while outcomes relate to the number of sales and associated revenue generated.  Effective leaders make data based decisions.

Providing Performance Feedback and Coaching

Performance feedback is the bread and butter of Organizational Behavior Management – the science of behavior applied to organizations.  Manny noted that, while numerous ratios of positive to negative performance feedback exist, it really comes down to what the data tell you.  A hallmark of behavior analysis is our focus on each individual as a unique person, and your feedback should be tailored as such.

Reinforcement vs Rewards vs Recognition

Managing incentives is a large part of managing performance, and many incentives are intangible reinforcers such as praise and other forms of positive feedback.  Manny favors an emphasis on intangible feedback – after all, it is in unlimited supply and it is free! That doesn’t mean, however, that you should never use tangibles such as bonuses and gift cards, but just make sure they are reinforcing the intended behavior.

Focusing on the Long Game vs Short Wins

Effective leaders focus on long-term success, vs short-term wins.  Over the short term (weeks and months) the organization will likely face ups and downs on key performance indicators, such as sales, staff turnover, and profit/loss.  Fluctution over the short term is to be expected of any company, but if long-term trends indicate that the organization is not developing in positive direction it could spell trouble if leadership is not prepared to enact effective change.  Effective leaders know what performance goals look like 1, 3, and 5 years out.

If you would like to listen to this and other Rethink webinars, visit https://www.rethinkbehavioralhealth.com/ and become a member.

Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org.  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, bSciStudios and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]


Manny Rodriguez, M.S. has worked with many organizations across the globe over the past 15 years.  He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers, and colleagues alike.  He has earned a reputation for his quick grasp of behavioral challenges and how to solve them offering a practical “real-world” approaches.  He has held positions both as an external consultant at the largest behavior based consultancies, Aubrey Daniels International and the Continuous Learning Group, and as a Global Environmental Health and Safety leader within FMC Corporation, an international specialty chemicals company, and today is Vice President of ABA Technologies, Inc.

Manny’s experience spans various industries working with some of the largest organizations in the world such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Kraft Foods, Syncrude, Cigna, Heinz, Canadian National Railway, Duke Power, ADM, Blair, Bell Canada, Stewart Enterprises, and FMC Corporation. Manny has led large scale change efforts, providing one-on-one coaching with executives and senior managers, developing and delivery engaging professional development learning events, and led teams of professionals to achieve significant performance.   His leadership in the science of human behavior has impacted the lives of thousands leaders and employees nationally and internationally.

Manny has worked with organizations across the globe, lending his expertise in behavioral science to make a difference in the workplace.  Manny’s experience spans various industries such as human services, nuclear power, government, oil and gas, transportation, telecommunications, banking, and chemical within the Fortune 1000.  Today, he focuses his time on bringing behavior analysis to executives and leaders through online learning, consulting, and training practitioners.

Through his leadership, Manny has consulted to various clients, launched Operant Leadership, the business consulting service division of ABA Technologies, co-authored with his Operant Leadership colleagues Daniel Sundberg and Shannon Biagi the four volume series OBM Applied! a practical guide to implementing organizational behavior management, and most recently co-authored with Dr. Paul Gavoni the book Quick Wins! Accelerating School Transformation through Science, Engagement, and Leadership.

In addition, Manny volunteers his time as the current Executive Director of the OBM Network, and as a member of the board of directors of the space coast human resource association. You can contact him at [email protected].


Rethink Behavioral Health provides the tools every behavioral health provider needs to manage their practice and deliver quality ABA treatment effectively & efficiently. Rethink’s easy to use web-based software streamlines client care with sophisticated yet intuitive tools for both clinicians & administrators. For more information, visit http://www.rethinkbh.com.

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