Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour
Honesty is the best policy. That’s Daniel Effron’s motto. Of course, the greatest distance is often the one between how people think and how they act. This gap is Effron’s passion. A social psychologist, Effron studies the impulses that lead to shortcuts that ultimately produce rationalizations.
This zeal for honesty and consistency has helped to turn him into one of the London Business School’s most popular professors – and earned him the Class of 2015’s Teaching Award.
“Before I taught my very first MBA class, I received a lot of advice about how to adopt the right “business school persona” to command attention in the classroom. I quickly found, though, that authenticity works better than any persona. I wish more people had told me to just focus on my enthusiasm for what I teach and my genuine interest in what students have to say.”
A Stanford Ph.D., Effron teaches courses in organizational behavior, workplace ethics and effective management at the London Business School. A prolific research, his research has been covered in outlets as diverse as The Atlantic, Bloomberg, and the New York Times. Despite the notoriety, Effron remains as passionate about teaching as research – and it clearly shows with students.
“Daniel is an outstanding educator,” writes one student. “He has a great mix of a deep technical knowledge of his subject and a wonderful ability to read and manage the ebb and flow of the class conversation.”
At current institution since what year? 2013
BA in Psychology from Yale University in 2005
PhD in Social Psychology from Stanford University in 2011
List of courses you currently teach:
‘The Science of People in Organisations’
‘Ethics in Work, Organisations, and Society’
Twitter handle: N/A. Read more about my research and teaching at www.danieleffron.com
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR
“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…I discovered that teaching MBA students is a blast.”
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
I study the psychology of unethical behavior. I’m particularly interested in the mental tricks people use to license themselves and others to cheat, lie or express prejudice without feeling too bad about themselves. For example, I’ve studied how doing good can free people to do bad; how workers are more likely to overbill for their time when it’s their “last chance” to do so; and how political leaders get off the hook for dishonesty by inviting their supporters to imagine how the lies “could have been true”. By identifying the psychological traps that lead good people to do bad things, my aim is to help organizations facilitate more ethical behavior.
“If I weren’t a business school professor…I’d be a psychology professor. What can I say? I love being a professor.”
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
I weave students’ stories about their everyday work experience through each class to make course material come alive.
One word that describes my first time teaching:
If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be?
Another Star as performed by the Gene Harris trio. It’s an upbeat jazz piano tune played with enthusiasm, improvisation and humor. Some years I play it on the classroom speakers as students are arriving.
As a b-school professor, what motivates you?
Learning from my students and my research.
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:
Before I taught my very first MBA class, I received a lot of advice about how to adopt the right “business school persona” to command attention in the classroom. I quickly found, though, that authenticity works better than any persona. I wish more people had told me to just focus on my enthusiasm for what I teach and my genuine interest in what students have to say.
Professor you most admire and why:
One of my earliest academic heroes was Claude Steele, who designs elegant experiments to address real-world problems.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
Students’ hunger to learn and apply new ideas and skills.
What is most challenging?
Students’ hunger to learn and apply new ideas and skills (it’s an incredibly motivating challenge).
Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student:
Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student:
What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done?
My students impress me every day with the insights they share in the classroom. I never mind teaching the same material to multiple streams of students because, in each stream, students’ contributions to discussion are different, surprising and thought-provoking.
What is the least favorite thing one has done?
On my first MBA teaching evaluation, one student wrote just one comment: “Hands in pockets – not so cool.”
What does a student need to do to get an A in your class?
Understand how to apply course material to new situations.
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…
But I would describe myself as…
Indebted to my teaching assistants.
Fill in the blank: “If my students can…recognize and avoid the psychological traps that can lead good people to do bad things in business, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
Fun fact about yourself: I once received a hug from singer-songwriter Carole King.
What are your hobbies? I’ve been performing in improv comedy groups for the last few years.
How will you spend your summer? Writing, traveling to Australia to speak to members of government about my research, and playing in the park with my two-year-old daughter.
Favorite place to vacation: My most memorable trips have been to Bali and Slovenia.
Favorite book: Anything by Nabokov, White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
It’s hard to beat 1990s-era The Simpsons. It strikes the perfect balance between silliness and social critique.
Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:
I was on a bossa nova kick for a while. These days I’m listening to a lot of Americana.
Bucket list item #1:
Produce a research discovery that is regularly taught in MBA programs two generations after my death.
THOUGHTS OF REFLECTION
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
Receiving tenure three years early.
What is your most memorable moment as a professor?
I gave a talk about my research at a comedy show and then a group of actors improvised scenes inspired by my talk.
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…
And much less of this…
Classes at 8:15AM.
In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what?
Many organizations have a limited understanding of the forces that can lead ordinary people to act unethically. We need to move beyond blaming corporate malfeasance on “a few bad apples” and proactively design organizational contexts that make it easy for people to live up to their ethical values.
Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you:
I’d like to design and scale up interventions based on my research to improve ethical behavior in organizations.
“Great energy and made me want to listen and learn.”
“Fantastic. I found this a potentially life-changing experience.”