Wednesday, October 27, 2010

From an early age, kids may be encouraged to lead, not just follow. The coveted quality of leadership makes a difference in careers, sports, religion, politics, and even at home.

But what makes a good leader, and how are leaders chosen? These are questions University of Iowa graduate student Brian McCormick plans to investigate as he pursues his doctorate in management and organizations.

McCormick, a Graduate College Presidential Fellow, spent twelve years as a high school athletic director, coach, and teacher before returning to school as a student last year. As McCormick held leadership positions, he was constantly researching ways to enhance his skills. He decided to return to school to study the topic from a scholarly perspective.

"As I observed peers in leadership roles, I often thought about what they were doing better or worse than me, and whether the process of becoming a leader could be standardized," McCormick said.

McCormick's life experiences, personal studies, and current academic research have resulted in a growing appreciation for leadership.

"Leaders have a lot of value in our society, and a lot of power," he said.

As a second-year graduate student, McCormick is just now unraveling what specific leadership niches he will further study. His current priority is to analyze the work that has already been completed in order to learn what research is still needed.

McCormick is especially interested in leadership ethics. He points out that a strong leader can convince people to abide by a message, regardless of whether it's positive or negative. He may also examine variations in how leaders present themselves in public settings versus behind closed doors, and in good times and bad.

"I've noticed in some preliminary research the ease of presenting oneself as a positive, moral, and ethical leader," McCormick said. "What I find interesting is that when things don't go according to plan, some leaders struggle to remain in control of their emotions. The public sees some leaders' true character surface."

McCormick's adviser, Amy Colbert, assistant professor of management and organizations at the UI, said she is pleased to work with him because of his work ethic and the array of ideas he's willing to share. She thinks his time in the workforce helped him significantly.

"Brian has been a really excellent student to work with," she said. "He came in having had several years of work experience, so I think he approaches the program like it is a job. He is here, and he's here to learn, getting as much out of the program as he can."