Studying the impact of leaders' purpose-driven messages

Claremont, California
DOI: 10.18258/6107
Raised of $1,400 Goal
Funded on 12/17/15
Successfully Funded
  • $1,400
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 12/17/15

About This Project

The proposed research explores how leaders can more effectively communicate purpose by monitoring neural activity during leader-follow communication, assessing follower trust in the leader, and measuring commitment to the leader’s message. In particular, we believe that leader communications oriented toward shared purpose will be positively and significantly associated with affective commitment to the leader as compared to other communication.

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What is the context of this research?

Our understanding of communication efficacy has improved tremendously in the past decade, driven in part by the application of neuroscience to the investigation of how alternative communication styles affect message receivers. Claremont Graduate University's Center for Neuroeconomics Studies has developed a set of non-invasive tools and analytical techniques to assess and predict the impact of persuasive narratives. The proposed research will apply these techniques to assess the differential psychological and physiological impacts on listeners of purpose versus non-purpose narratives, issues that have received little empirical investigation. Because the research proposed here uses measures of neural activity, it reduces the reliance on self-reported data.

What is the significance of this project?

Major shifts in the very structure of organizations over the last century have changed what it means to be a leader. They have gone from being primarily manufacturing and production-based to being service and knowledge-based. Once hierarchical structures with command-and-control decision-making have, with the help of the information technology revolution, become flatter and distributed decision-making. Where once it was sufficient to provide work and set goals, today’s leaders are increasingly called upon to provide meaning and purpose, not merely provide jobs. As a result, today’s leaders often include the communication of purpose as an important part of their role. However, leaders have relatively little empirical guidance on cultivating meaning and purpose in their organizations.

What are the goals of the project?

Participants (CGU graduate students) view one of two video messages from a prominent Dean. One will be a purpose-driven message emphasizing CGU’s mission, vision and values; the other will be non-purpose-driven, discussing traditional education goals, the need to develop skills for the future, and the like. Participants’ peripheral neural signals will be continuously monitored while they watch the video. Following each video clip, participants will be asked to evaluate leader trustworthiness and the extent to which they feel committed to the message. The analysis will use neural signals to predict perceptions of leader attributes and to look for differential message impact between purpose-driven messages and those that are not.


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We plan to run at least 70 participants through a sequence of steps lasting roughly 1 hour. Typical compensation for such participation (at least in Los Angeles) is $20. Any excess funding raised will be used to fund additional participants.

Other expenses, including equipment and disposables, will be provided by the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies.

Endorsed by

Greg is currently my graduate student working on his PhD in Positive Organizational Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. The project he is leading will give leaders across a wide range of organizations important, evidence-based knowledge about how purpose affects the effectiveness of leader communication. Research into communication and persuasion has been around for a long time, but the role of communicating an organization's purpose is not well understood.
It is great to have someone with Greg's experience in the PhD program in Positive Organizational Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. He is passionate about research with practical applications.

Meet the Team

Gregory Hennessy
Gregory Hennessy


Claremont Graduate University
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Team Bio

This experiment would not be possible without the support of the team at the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, including Director Paul Zak, Associate Director Jorge Barraza, and the graduate students and undergraduates affiliated with the lab.

Gregory Hennessy

I am earning my doctoral degree in Positive Organizational Psychology from Claremont Graduate University (CGU), where I study strategic leadership and the impact of moral purpose on organizational performance. I have been interested in questions of purpose and meaning in life and in work since college. But for many years I considered them too impractical to focus on. A few years ago a trusted college told me about the program at CGU featuring Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (co-founder of positive psychology, author of "Flow"), and I immediately began to see the opportunity to try to answer some of these questions. I left a good-paying job to start down a new path. I hope to use my two decades of experience in the "real world" to address some of these long-simmering questions.

I have been a strategy and organizational development consultant for more than 20 years integrating knowledge of human and organizational behavior, complexity and systems thinking, and quantitative analysis to help clients solve their most difficult problems. I have been an Engagement Manager and Manager of Professional Development at McKinsey & Co. I have served on the faculty of the Shell Learning Center and was a consultant to Shell’s Learning & Transformation Services group. I hold Master’s degrees in Social Science from the California Institute of Technology and in Management from MIT’s Sloan School.

Project Backers

  • 15Backers
  • 100%Funded
  • $1,400Total Donations
  • $93.33Average Donation
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