How Thought Leadership Can Advance The Dissemination of ABA

By Manny Rodriguez, M.S.

bSci21 Contributing Writer (

A recent article posted on “CNN I report” highlighted expert advice by Neil Dhillon, former presidential aide, lobbyist and “thought leadership” expert.  Dhillion provides advice on “what thought leadership is and how it can be utilized by anyone trying to influence an audience.”  After reading through the original article, many of Dhillion’s tips can be readily observed today by the action taken by a few ABA “thought leaders.”  These suggested steps by Dhillion therefore offer ABA practitioners a means to support further dissemination of applied behavior analysis, helping individuals to become “thought leaders” themselves.  

As the article explains, “the words “thought leadership” sometimes bring up images of “thought control,” although according to Dhillon, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Dhillion defines “thought leadership” as “becoming an expert or authority on a given topic by creating that dialogue.”

Dhillion was quoted to say “if you are truly a thought leader, you recognize your responsibility to use best practices to influence your audience and get your message across.”  “Thought leadership” as proposed by Dhillion  “is a proven strategy to start the dialogue between recipient and speaker and, in its best form, is a cycle that works for everyone’s benefit.” 

“You do not become an expert by sitting along and refining your own thoughts”

In an effort to encourage disseminating applied behavior analysis, several highlights were extracted from the original article to provide bSci21 readers a “quick reference” guide to becoming a thought leader.  In addition, this article points to a select few ABA practitioners who have demonstrated these tips, highlighting the impact these “thought leader” behaviors can have. There are many ways to disseminate the science, and hopefully you will find these highlights to supplement or further advance your other efforts.

1. Start a Dialogue on your Topic:  To become a thought leader, Dhillion says “you become an expert by getting out in the world and experiencing what it is you are talking about. Invite dialogue with those who have done so. In this way, we can vicariously experience many things and expand our knowledge of a given topic.” 

ABA Practitioner Example: Dr Jon S. Bailey and Adam Ventura started a conversation about ethical practices of ABA organizations.  After conversations through list serves and live forums in conferences, Bailey and Ventura founded COEBO – The Code of Ethics for Behavioral Organizations ( 

2. Right Questions, right answers: In order to become an authority on any topic, Dhillion suggests it is necessary to deliver the right answers to an audience, which means asking the right questions the audience actually wants answers to.  As Dhillion states, “too many experts believe that they know what the people want, when in reality they are missing the mark.”  The right questions may take some research to determine what people are looking for.  Dhillon advises to start by “getting on a search engine and find out what questions people are actually asking.”

ABA Practitioner Example: Dr Timothy Ludwig began his career in behavioral science and safety at Virginia Tech researching the benefits of employee-driven behavioral safety program.  Today, Dr Ludwig is a prominent researcher and practitioner sought after by global organizations looking for behavioral solutions to safety.  If you read any one of his writings or blogs, or have the good fortune to see him present at a conference, you quickly observe he asks really good questions to start things off.   One of his most recent articles “Labeling is Easy: Dig Deeper to Change” poses the question “It’s quite easy to give ourselves a label, isn’t it?” This question lends itself to a great reading experience, and “nuggets” of insight into behavioral solutions to getting rid of labels, and focusing on behaviors that make a difference. See for yourself at Dr Ludwig’s website   

3. Have your content strategy in place: Dhillon “believes that the level of authority any person possesses is ultimately determined by his or her ability to answer the questions that the audience is asking.”   Knowing what the questions are, and knowing how best to “determine how well the audience is understanding and assimilating the content” is important. Dhillon says to do this effectively you must “set up a dialogue…. not monologue.”  The dialogue “is what builds trust…[and] building trust with an audience means opening the expert content up to examination.”  Your content strategy must include the questions you will ask, your answers to potential questions they will ask, and the ability to relay your message clearly and concisely so the audience “gets it.”  As Dhillion describes, “you have to let your audience play with the content and give you feedback. Otherwise, you are simply shouting into a void with no idea at all of what the reactions are.” 

ABA Practitioner Example: For more than 30 years, the consulting firm Aubrey Daniels International has taught the science of human behavior to thousands of organizations around the globe.  For years, one of their key offers has been a 4.5-day workshop providing an in-depth understanding of the science of behavior.  If you have had the good fortune to attend one of these workshops, you would have observed a rich dialogue between ABA practitioner and consumer, questions soaring throughout the days and answers being provided clearly and concisely by the ADI experts. In addition, participants in the workshop “work,” practicing and developing their skills in the application of behavioral science as taught by these thought leaders.  See for yourself at or specifically

4. Be Flexible:  The article further describes the need for flexibility in your content strategy.  Although this point is more of a continuation of a previous item in the original article, it can stand alone.  As described in the article, “content strategy has to be flexible enough to withstand scrutiny, and experts must be willing to edit based on feedback.”  Dhillion is quoted to say by being open to feedback, scrutiny, and criticism, “you are secure enough in your knowledge of a subject, through your research and experiences, to address concerns, issues and differences of opinion in a professional way.”  Addressing concerns and opinions is what further develops the “foundation for a strong reputation as an expert.”  

ABA Practitioner Example: For over 20 years, Dr. Jose Martinez-Diaz has developed ABA instructional material to train practitioners.  As a professor at Florida Institute of Technology, Dr. Martinez-Diaz carefully prepared his material, and after each course was completed, he meticulously updated his material based on feedback from students, and their performance in the course.  As a result, today Florida Institute of Technology offers five different graduate programs in applied behavior analysis, including a PhD in Behavior Analysis.  See for yourself at

5. Even an expert will be wrong at some point:  “All experts have one thing in common: they have been wrong at some time in their past. Acknowledging that the process of becoming an expert is one of growth is very important. Learn all you can about a subject and become the master of it, but do not be afraid to examine feedback.

ABA Practitioner Example: For this one, there is no one particular individual that stands out readily enough to offer a very good example.  Hopefully, it’s because all behavior analysts are humble enough to admit when they are wrong.  In any event, to become a thought leader,  behavior analysts should see acknowledging your limitations, seeking help from others, and simply asking for feedback along the way serves a function – namely helping you to become a thought leader.

For Your Reading Pleasure:

Rebeccalmre, posted June 14 2015. Neil Dhillon’s Expert Advice on Thought Leadership. Retrieved on July 19 2015 

Manny Rodriguez, M.S.

Manny Rodriguez, M.S. has over ten years experience, working with organizations across the globe within the Fortune 1000. He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers and colleagues alike. Manny is especially skilled at facilitating business teams to execute strategic plans and preparing leaders to engage employees to reach their maximum potential. Manny holds the position of Director of Continuing Education and Product Development for ABA Technologies, a pioneer in online professional development of behavior analysts, and is also the President of the Organizational Behavior Management Network.

Manny Rodriguez and ABA Technologies, Inc provides products and services for Behavior Analysts and the general public. Online Professional Development in ABA, Coaching/Mentoring Behavior Analysts, Speaking engagements such as Workshops/Seminars/Webinars, and Expert Consulting in ABA, OBM, Instructional Design and Teaching Behavior Analysis. For more information, contact

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