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Fall Conference Keynote: How Great Leaders Influence Behavior
What makes some people better leaders than others? Rene Rodriguez, the professional speaker and author who delivered the opening keynote address Oct. 30 at the AIHA Fall Conference on Leadership and Management in Tampa, Fla., has made a career out of answering this question. His consulting company, Volentum, teaches people practical ways to exercise influence. At the Fall Conference, Rodriquez told attendees that the first step for any leader is to capture the audience’s attention and energy. This seemingly simple task is increasingly difficult in an age where every email, tweet, and Facebook post screams for attention.
“How do we engage hearts and minds,” Rodriguez asked, “in an environment where everyone is trying to do the same thing?”
Leaders need to produce results, and results often depend on others’ behavior, Rodriguez said. But attempts to change behavior will fail because people are predisposed to resist these efforts.
To explain why people resist change, Rodriguez summarized the research of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who has shown that people have two “systems” of thought. System 1 is reactionary and rooted in the present, and operates on very little information. System 2 focuses on the long term and carries out far more complex, time-consuming operations; it’s the brain’s analytical mode. As Rodriguez explained, System 2 is what motivates people to set their alarm for five a.m. so they can go to the gym; System 1 is what makes them hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off.
These ideas have immediate relevance for industrial hygienists and occupational health and safety professionals, who often need to convince people to do things for safety and health reasons that run counter to System 1 thinking. This built-in resistance to change can’t be overcome by a System 2 approach that appeals to logic and reason.

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