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Five ways to up your good-leader quotient at work

Associate Professor Jia (Jasmine) Hu, a leadership expert in Fisher College of Business, takes us beyond the inescapable buzzword and into the heart of what it means to grow and become a leader.

A woman in a red suit smiles in a classroom built to focus attention on the speaker

Associate Professor Jia (Jasmine) Hu is a nationally recognized expert on leadership. (Photo by Jo McCulty ’84, ’94 MA)

Leadership has, is and always will be a popular topic. Call up your LinkedIn feed right now and, no doubt, you’ll find a slew of posts about the topic. It’s a skill listed on any resumé and boasted about in almost every performance review.

But what exactly is leadership? Is it vision, hard work, people skills? Do we know it when we see it, or are there traits that stand the test of time and discipline?

Jia (Jasmine) Hu, associate professor of management and human resources in Fisher College of Business, is one of the top leadership experts in the nation, specializing in research and writing about prosocial leadership — leaders who value the well-being of organizational members — and team cultures. She recently answered your questions about what she knows best.

  • How can students become better leaders outside the classroom and beyond college? — Cynthia O’Connor ’78

    Students can become better leaders by developing their own leadership potentials and skills such as empathy, consideration and compassion for others. They can engage in student organizations and think about a bigger purpose to help others and larger communities. They can also develop their humility and open-mindedness and think about ways to help teams improve and become more effective.

  • What should a leader do when entering an existing organization in order to enhance the team culture without overwhelming current employees? — Misti Allison MPH ’11

    How new leaders adapt to existing teams and shape their culture is a challenging topic. Instead of fundamentally changing everything, which is often too forceful, leaders need to acknowledge and appreciate what the team has done well while openly discussing any potential improvement they can make to make it better. Leaders can spend time to get to know their team members and create psychological safety to allow them to openly share their ideas. Leaders can work with employees to provide answers to questions such as: What do we want to leave behind and what new things do we want to create? Culture change is a gradual process and needs to be accepted and endorsed by the majority of its members.

  • In a microbusiness of less than 10 people, where everyone is basically working as one, how can a leader lead without micromanaging? — Joan Gaudion McKinney ’81

    Micromanaging is similar to what we call helicopter parenting. It undermines employees’ sense of control and self-esteem. Leaders might behave this way with good intent; they want to make sure things are progressing well. However, they send a strong signal to employees that they do not trust them and that employees need to be told what to do and regularly checked. Don’t get me wrong: It is important to set clear goals and expectations so everyone is on the same page. But it is equally important to leave flexibility and autonomy to employees. Feelings of autonomy and competence are fundamental human needs. When employees feel competent and have a sense of control, they are motivated to work harder, and they feel happier at work. Thus, leaders need to provide necessary guidance but share power with their employees, allow them to make decisions on how to do things, and instill trust and confidence in them. When things go wrong, the entire team can provide help and support.

  • What is the best way to emphasize failure as a learning experience moving us forward? — Bruce Beyer ’74

    I really like this question. I have been doing a research project investigating how learning from failures helps managers and their employees move forward. Mistakes and failures are inevitable due to bounded rationality (March & Simon, 1958) and uncertainty in the business environment. I think it is critical for leaders and employees to have an open attitude toward failures. Failures can increase our awareness of insufficient behaviors and potentially lead to new insights and creative solutions. They are important experiences where learning can take place. Research has shown that leaders play an important role in conveying the value of failure as a learning experience and that many companies from industries such as commercial airlines, hotels and banks recover from failure because they have fostered this value. One thing I would like to add is that learning should start with leaders, who are role models for others. By watching how those in powerful positions respond to failures, employees develop new knowledge to improve.

  • What is the role of management leadership in developing strong teams? — Thomas A. Diederich ’88

    Leaders play a key role in building, shaping and developing strong, effective teams. It first starts with selection. Leaders know how to select and recruit members with the right characteristics and skills for their teams. Effective leaders also know how to train, motivate and reward their team members. They communicate with compelling vision and goals and increase members’ commitment toward the goal. They set up clear goals and empower and trust employees to utilize their talents to do jobs effectively. Lastly, great leaders are positive role models in cultivating the right culture for their teams to achieve collective goals together.

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