Have You Applied the Nudge Theory to Your Organization’s Leaders?


The leaders in your organization are likely doing well. They’re making solid decisions, hiring good people and meeting their goals. But, do you suspect they could be doing a little better? Is more investment in leadership training the answer? Or should you try a different kind of development?

Why Training Fails

The decision to invest in additional formal leadership training can be expensive, especially if the end result isn’t what you hoped for. In his Gallup column, Vibhas Ratanjee says, “50% to 60% of executives fail to achieve the strategy they were hired to execute within 18 months of taking the job.”

This failure could stem from training that emphasizes a set of expected leadership behaviors. The best people in any organization find their way into leadership positions because they exhibit the kind of behavior that contributes to the entity’s success.

At too many companies, leadership training grooms these individuals using a standard curriculum. What you end up with is group think. Your best and brightest employees can start to lose their edge and their unique abilities. They may worry that their ideas won’t fall within the guidelines of your organization’s ‘leadership principles.’ While there’s a place for leadership guidelines in every organization, you must leave room for leaders to adapt and grow. 

How the Nudge Theory Succeeds

The nudge theory holds that leaders do better when they apply their innate abilities to a situation. In your company culture, leaders might all tend to have stand-​up meetings and move quickly from one topic to the next. If you have a leader who is more deliberative, give that person breathing space. Allow them to take time, within reason, to make decisions the way they always have. The end result could be a better decision and a more agile strategy for your organization.

Nudge theory can also improve the leadership ability of team members who prefer to avoid certain situations. You can broaden the experience of a promising leader and build their confidence by asking them to take on a bigger responsibility. For example, managing a cross-​functional team to complete a critical project could pose a huge challenge. When you give that leader support and encourage them to work outside their comfort zone, they’ll rely on their innate abilities. With some personalized coaching and support, they’ll develop other skills that will improve the organization as well. 

One size does not fit all, especially when it comes to leadership training.