June 1, 2020

The “Courage Scale”: Opening Session Speaker Calls for OHS Professionals to Lead by Example

By Kay Bechtold and Ed Rutkowski

Author and speaker René Rodriguez opened the first fully virtual AIHce EXP conference this morning with a discussion of the central role occupational health and safety professionals can play in leading their organizations’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a series of pre-recorded vignettes, Rodriguez addressed techniques leaders use to influence behavior, drawing lessons that have broad application but are particularly resonant now as countries around the world continue to deal with the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

In a crisis such as a pandemic, leaders are under a microscope: their every word and action will be judged, and they must set examples for others to follow. “Right now is an opportunity for you to really set the tone for what people around you are thinking,” Rodriguez said. “The people who work for you are thinking, ‘Did I make a good choice in working for this leader?’”

Rodriguez outlined some of the basics of behavioral psychology and discussed how leaders can influence others to create change. He acknowledged that results are driven by behavior, but that change at the behavioral level often leads to resistance because most people don’t like to engage in change. One of the ways that leaders and others can achieve desired results is by examining and affecting what drives behavior—primarily people’s beliefs. But rather than challenging others’ beliefs, Rodriguez encouraged the audience to approach change in a different way, by creating “aha! moments” to cause an “inner shift” that affects behavior.

To help leaders gauge their effects on people, Rodriguez discussed the work of the psychiatrist David R. Hawkins, whose 2013 book Power vs. Force posits a hierarchy of consciousness that encompasses seventeen separate levels, from feelings of shame, guilt, and apathy at the bottom to peace, love, and enlightenment at the top. In Hawkins’ model, courage is midway between shame, the lowest level, and enlightenment, the highest.

Rodriguez encouraged attendees to think of Hawkins’ levels as a scale. Effective leaders, he suggested, are those who help people reach the higher levels on this “courage scale.” He asked attendees to examine how they conduct themselves not only at work but in their private lives, through their text messages and on social media. A leader’s goal should be to deliver information that motivates positive action, Rodriguez said. And they must take care to ensure that they project calm in times of crisis.

“We have to understand the difference between being prepared and being panicked,” he said. “If you just talk about how bad things are and don’t give me an actionable thing to do, you’re just causing fear.”

Rodriguez stressed that especially now, at a time of heightened fears of disease, leaders must embrace a positive outlook and realize that the pandemic “is a blip in the radar of our entire lifespan.”

“If you’re a leader, you have a chance to set the narrative around how [the pandemic] is explained,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez will build on the information from today’s session during the conference’s closing keynote, “The Neuroscience of Influence,” which he will deliver on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 3. He will wrap up Virtual AIHce EXP 2020 by turning his focus to help attendees understand different techniques they can use to address the leadership challenges they may face in a post-COVID world.

AIHA Rolls Out New Name, Logo

Prior to Rodriguez’s presentation, AIHA President Kathleen S. Murphy introduced elements of the organization’s new brand, which involve a simplification of the association’s name, a new logo, and a new tagline.

Founded in 1939 as the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the organization will be known moving forward simply as “AIHA,” Murphy said. The new logo incorporates a design that evokes the “plan-do-check-act” process, which is a key component of occupational health and safety management systems.

AIHA’s tagline, previously “Protecting Worker Health,” is now “Healthier Workplaces. A Healthier World.”

The new brand represents a change in emphasis from industrial hygiene to the broader occupational health and safety professions.

“As the premier organization representing our profession, we had to evolve to meet the needs of our current and future members as well as the general public,” Murphy said. “COVID-19 has put a spotlight on our profession and positioned many of our members front and center as experts in occupational health in their workplaces and in the forefront of the country’s public eye. This change to OHS helps the public associate the profession with health and better understand what we do.”

Kay Bechtold is managing editor of The Synergist.

Ed Rutkowski is The Synergist's editor-in-chief.