Charlotte Business Buzz

Leadership Amidst Tumultuous Times

May 13, 2020 UNC Charlotte Season 1
Leadership Amidst Tumultuous Times
Charlotte Business Buzz
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Charlotte Business Buzz
Leadership Amidst Tumultuous Times
May 13, 2020 Season 1
UNC Charlotte

In our pilot episode, we talk with Dr. Janaki Gooty, associate professor in the Department of Management at the Belk College of Business and in the interdisciplinary organizational science Ph.D. program at UNC Charlotte. She has extensive research in how leaders and followers develop high-quality relationships, managing emotions in the workplace, and stress and well-being at work.

Show Notes Transcript

In our pilot episode, we talk with Dr. Janaki Gooty, associate professor in the Department of Management at the Belk College of Business and in the interdisciplinary organizational science Ph.D. program at UNC Charlotte. She has extensive research in how leaders and followers develop high-quality relationships, managing emotions in the workplace, and stress and well-being at work.

Host: Jeffrey Jones:   0:00
Hi, I'm Jeffrey Jones with UNC Charlotte, and this is Charlotte Business Buzz connecting the Queen City's business community from the Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte. This is Charlotte Business Buzz. Chances are the way you're running your business right now is a bit different. While change is a natural part of business evolution, the level of stress and anxiety that the COVID-19 epidemic has brought to the table is not. Today, we talk with Dr. Janaki Gooty, associate professor in the Department of Management at Belk College of Business and in organizational science an interdisciplinary PH. D program at UNC Charlotte. She has extensive research and how leaders and followers develop high quality relationships, manage emotions in the workplace and handle stress and well being at work. Janaki, welcome to the program.

Dr. Janaki Gooty:   0:49
Thank you, Jeff. It's good to be here with you.

Host: Jeffrey Jones:   0:52
You're currently studying leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us more about this and what you hope to find?

Dr. Janaki Gooty:   0:58
Yes, absolutely. So the first thing I want to talk about a little bit is leadership in general. And, you know, we all know that leadership is something that has been researched a whole lot. The best example I can give of this is if you go open up, LinkedIn right now, you'll find so many leadership pieces of advice. And here's what you should do if you're a leader. And here are some things you should not do right, And something is really important to remember here is that there is a lot that passes for leadership, science, science being within codes and something to keep in mind is this team of researchers that were all part of here it the Belk College of Business in Charlotte. We're trying to do better science than what's come before in leadership, And that's not to say that everything that's been done in leadership is bad. But, you know, if this were a drug, it would not be passing clinical trials. About 98% of it. What does that mean in terms of research methods? You know, we're trying to do better science than a lot of what has come before, and this is not just us there, Ah, little clusters of researchers all over the world who are engaged in this effort. So that's a little bit of background on the science of leadership, if you will. Now let's talk about COVID-19 and what's new here. So having crises in business is not something that's new to us. For example, the Institute for Crisis Management noted in 2010 that they're almost 90,000 news accounts of business related crises in the United States alone between 2000 and 2009. Okay, so the fact that we have crises is not news to us and leadership, and the role of leadership and crises is not new to us, either. We understand that leadership is important in the role of crises. But what is really going on here that's brand new to us. And that is jumping a lot of business leaders as well as policy making agencies, I think, is the fact that you don't typically, when we have crises, we face one or two threats. Typically, for example, there might be a loss of life, or there might be a threat to the environment. And as in the case of the BP oil crisis, but here with COVID-19 what's happening is we have all of these threats all happening at the exact same time and the strength of these threats are actually growing at an exponential rates. So, for example, we have threat to life. Of course, right. We have threat to jobs, income. We have supply chain shortages. We have a health care system that's overloaded, and along with that, we have mental health challenges that are starting to crop up. So this is why you're all scrambling and saying, What is it that leaders should be attending to first? How do they decide which is a priority in order for them to remain relevant and also for their leadership to be effective? Should they be fearful? Should they communicate fear about this pandemic to followership, therefore, encouraging followers to also take it seriously, our should they remain optimistic about the future so that we don't have a global mental health crises? These are the types of questions that we - our research team - is trying to answer. And part of this research team is Dr Banks, Dr Tonidandel and two extraordinary PhD students. Andrew and Liana.

Host: Jeffrey Jones:   4:30
We've all had differing levels of stress and experienced a variety of emotions throughout the pandemic. Can your research offer us help to work with stress and emotions.

Dr. Janaki Gooty:   4:39
Yeah, that's a great question, Jeff. And you know what's really fascinating about all of this is when I first started to research emotions in the workplace in 2007. The role of feelings or what people might be experiencing in the workplace in terms of emotion was considered really a fringe topic in Management Science And the prescription was that Listen, emotions are irrational. Please leave them at the door, and this is not something we want to scientifically study in business settings. Let me just point out at the very beginning that we have come a very, very long way since then and emotion management has just become mainstream in the current workforce now, with that said, I also think that just like leadership when it comes to emotion management, there are a lot of theories and findings that are floating around there. And it's very important to clarify that with everything that I'm about to say here, there's a big caveat. And the caveat is the type of emotions and stress that I'm going to talk about here is simply the emotion that comes out of all the stress that comes out of the hustle and bustle off our work lives and I'm not necessarily talking about anything that's mental illness related or that would require the attention of a health care professional. So it's very important to understand and remember that. Now with that said, Let's talk a little bit about what, exactly are emotions, right? So if we're going to talk about stress and managing feelings, we need to understand what exactly is this thing and what these things are really- our emotions. When we walk around saying, Look, I feel anxiety, I feel happy. I feel sad. These are really microcosmic expressions of how we as humans are responding to everything that's happening in our environment. Okay, so, for example, when things are going well, we feel what we call the positive affects. And that would be things such as happiness, joy, pride and what have you right. So when we perceive things that we think are threats in our environment, as is happening currently in the workforce, we feel a lot of negative emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, guilt, disappointment and so on. Now the key thing to remember here is none of us actually like feeling any of these negative affects, right? There's no one that says, Oh, I love feeling sad all the time. You know, that's just it doesn't happen because we're hardwired to chase after the feel good. You know, we all want to feel good. So the first lesson that emerges from the science and this is based on the research I've been doing, rose about 100 years of research in psychology on management is this You know, that old Beatle song? Let it be. They had it right, you know? So the mantra really is You have to learn to let it be. You know, these negative emotions, such as sadness and anger and frustration and fear have actually evolved as our response to threats in the environment. They're tied to our survival, right? So we should not try to numb them. But we should feel what we're feeling all of these negative affects and understand what information they're giving us. Right? And once we do that and we're not trying to numb them, then the second part becomes okay. Now it's very, very important not to wallow in these negative affects for way too long. Right? So what am I saying it. What I'm saying is it's important to acknowledge that we are feeling the set of things and then it's important to understand what information is the set of feelings giving us, and typically what they're telling us is Hey, listen, not everything is okay with your world right now. So what is going to do about it? So the simple prescription there is something we called active coping. So active coping is simply about creating all of these action steps and plans, knowing fully well that these plans and action steps might not work, they might fall apart. But having plans, you know. And your best case and your worst case scenarios should be addressed in those plans. Give us back some of our sense of agency and control. So the reason we feel anxiety is because we feel like I don't know what's gonna happen. I have no sense of agency or control here. How do you deal with that anxiety? Acknowledge it and then you start to plan, and that gives you back some sense of agency and control. And, you know, another tactic here is can you think about the ways in which whatever it is that the event is that is causing this negative feelings right? For example, right now, COVID-19 causing anxiety and fear and anger. Perhaps, is there anything about this event that is highlighting opportunities to us? For example, we're hearing a lot about how manufacturing in this country could be revived because of this crisis, because it's really highlighted an opportunity that we have not capitalized upon here in America, Right? So that's an example of how we can re frame a crisis in a way that actually helps us on our adaptation and our survival. And the third thing is a technique that we hear about all the time all over. But this is actually something that's very, very important, and this is about engaging in anything that feeds your body as well as your mind. And here's something to remember is in some of my research, we have found that mind body techniques, you know, be it yoga or meditation or be it Tai Chi. But all of these techniques that focus on the breath along with movement, they promote higher levels of coping and lesser burn out amongst employees. To sum it all up, you know, feel what you're feeling. Acknowledge it. Make plans, but stay flexible and go out and move your body. That's the simple prescription,

Host: Jeffrey Jones:   10:35
Janaki. I'm curious. How have you apply this to your own reaction to working remotely?

Dr. Janaki Gooty:   10:40
Oh, that's a great question Jeff. And, you know, I try to adapt everything I learn through my research. And so if you think about this research that we have launched leadership during COVID. To me, I think in the early part of all of this, you know, my world was drastically changing we went to teaching online almost overnight and, I was witnessing what was happening not only with my immediate leadership, which would be the Belk College of Buisness' leadership, how they were adapting, how they were conducting these large scale faculty meetings online. But the other side of it was I was looking at how my students were coping and I started to notice, You know, it's very interesting that people are viewing this very differently, you know? Yes, there's fear,  yes there's anxiety. But there was also a sense of resilience about everyone, pretty much in my orbit in my work orbit. And that's what prompted this active coping strategy for me, right? So we launched the leadership during COVID-19 project because this was something that my research team and I - we felt like this give us a sense of purpose. This also is something that could, you know, it stands to positively contribute and I use such qualifiers because I'm a very careful scientist. I would like to think right, I don't want to simply blanket claim. Yes, this is going to make a big contribution. But what I'm hoping for is that active coping that, you know, I've started to enact. And that's what I tried to enact for our research team gives us all a sense of purpose and gives us all a sense of agency that we're doing something here to help our community, you know? So that's a great way. The other big thing is, I've been a yoga practitioner for a while now. So, you know, I've been following some of these mind body techniques that helps keep me sane through all of this, that does not at all mean, by the way, that I don't have anxiety and fear surrounding this. Listen, my family is thousands of miles away, and it's very anxiety provoking to think that I can't get on a plane and get there, but you can't stay in that space for too long.

Host: Jeffrey Jones:   12:49
Thanks for that insight. We'll be back with Dr Gooty in just a moment on Charlotte Business Buzz. A top quality MBA is one of the best investments you can make in your career. The school you choose and the skills you gain can have a profound impact on your professional life. By selecting the Belk College of Business MBA at UNC Charlotte, you can structure your own curriculum and gain skills tailored to your career goals, resulting in enhanced earning potential. Whether you're just starting out in the business world or contemplating your next step in an established career, explore the Belk College MBA as a strategic tool for upward career mobility. Learn more at MBA dot UNCC dot EDU. Knowing that we don't have all the answers for leaders during the COVID-19 Pandemic, what are some practical tips from the science of leadership that you would share at this time?

Dr. Janaki Gooty:   13:38
First thing, I would say, is the number one thing you have to do as a leader during this time is acknowledge and validate what your employees are thinking as well as feeling okay, So what does that mean? In practical terms? What is that look like? I'll give you an example. You could say something along the lines of This is an undesirable and challenging event for all of us as a community and just in that language, I'll point out a little later how that language really matters. But that is the thinking part off what your employees are feeling, right. They know something is off, and you're acknowledging that for them on when we have that type of acknowledgement, we feel a sense of social support. It makes us feel better. And that is why leaders need to acknowledge what their followers are feeling of the workforce is feeling followed up with a validation of what your workforce is feeling by indicating that you are in this with them, right? So you would say something along the lines of I feel the exact same emotions that you're feeling. I feel anxious that, you know, we don't know what's gonna happen in the future. I feel frustrated that I'm not able to get out and look at my employees face to face and talk about exciting projects. So by doing the second part, essentially, what you've done is you've acknowledged and validated their feelings, you know, so taken together, essentially you've acknowledged and validated their thoughts as well as their feelings. Now one thing I wanted to throw out there for our leaders especially, is you know, as we start to do this type of emotion management work, it's important to recognize that leaders are not only managing, their own emotions, but they're also managing these emotions of other people. IE the workforce. So the key here is to acknowledge that, first of all, to ourselves, if you're in a leadership role, please acknowledge Take a moment. Acknowledge that you're doing what I call twice the emotion work where you're not only doing it for yourself, but you have to now go ahead and do it for your workforce, right? And once this acknowledgement is done much like what I was saying with emotions before, you have to move beyond acknowledging and validating the present situation right? So we cannot stay in that space of this is challenging and undesirable, and we're feeling anxiety. We have to move past it, and leaders are in a position to reframe the threat in a way that mobilizes us right for change. And also letting us know our leaders are in our corner. So when leaders do this type of work, we call it the scientific labels, For it is called emotion regulation. And in much of the work I've done with my colleagues, we find that actively addressing what people are thinking and feeling and reframing events for them, and encouraging them to make changes in response to the threat is what works best rather than you know, a leader who says, While I know you're feeling bad, let's little happy hour, you know, which will happy hours fine, as long as you're at actually addressing the cause of what's going on. Okay, so that's the first thing. The second thing is you have to raise the bar as the leader. It is the leader's responsibility, and please know that management is about simply maintaining the status quo, and you're providing logistical support to your workforce. But as a leader, your role is actually to motivate and engage and inspire employees all the time. It does not say just when times are good, right it's all the time. So from that standpoint, in this crisis, what can leaders do You have to be the one who is raising the bar on resilience but articulating your vision for the future. What it really tells us is that we as humans are purpose driven. And we are purpose driven and resilient when we have something in front of us that we get excited about. OK and scientifically. The story of human survival has always been about there has to be a leader of the pack that is forward looking, is signaling optimism about the future and rallies troops around a common purpose. Okay, so how do you do that? For example, you can say, you know, this is really, really bad for us, not anything we've seen ever before at this point in time. But let's brainstorm on what has this opened up for us in terms of missed opportunities that could make our businesses better in the future. For example, is distantly  working, helping us stay more engaged. or is it opening up new market areas, or is it helping productivity? These are the kinds of places that leaders can go do and they can tell the story around it, right? And we all love a good story where good triumphs over evil and that is the power of good leadership. So very simply, I would ask leaders, What is the story that you're helping a workforce craft about COVID-19 Right now?

Host: Jeffrey Jones:   18:43
If you had 45 seconds to give a pep talk to leaders during this challenging time, what would it be?

Dr. Janaki Gooty:   18:48
So the first one would be acknowledged and validate what your people are feeling and thinking and second thing is create a vision of the future that helps people get excited, right? And let your people know that this is temporary. This is going to pass, right? The definition of temporary might be nine months, a year or year and 1/2 we don't know. But all in all, if you look at our life spans and our Children's life spans and our grandchildren's lifespans, this is a drop in the bucket. This will pass, for example, I've heard many leaders say this is really, really hard right and hardship by defining something as, ah, hardship instantaneously. What they're doing is you're setting up a fight or flight response to a threat. When I tell you there's something that's hard out there evolutionarily, you are hardwired to fight to that threat, that it's hard. Okay, so that sets into motion negative emotions. And people have to cope with that all of that right now. Is it really hard, or is it simply that this is a novel situation for the majority of us? Right now, if you don't have access to food, if you don't have access to health care, if you are living in poverty, are homeless. This is definitely hard. Hard is the right label, right? But I would encourage leaders to use language carefully because much of what we are facing, I think like many of us who are working from home, is home schooling, no social interaction. Our movement is restricted. All of this is new to us, but fundamentally it does not threaten our survival. So do we want to use language that promotes challenge appraisals where people say, Oh, this is just new. But I can mobilize resources to cope, or do we want to set this up for something that causes more negative emotions? That is really up to the leader the type of language that we use to help provide the motivation so people can rise above the challenge of what's happening right now.

Host: Jeffrey Jones:   20:47
Thanks again for your time today, Janaki.

Dr. Janaki Gooty:   20:48
You're welcome, Jeff. Really fun talking about all of this stuff. Thank you.

Host: Jeffrey Jones:   20:52
Dr. Gooty is an associate professor in the Department of Management at Belk College of Business and in organizational science an interdisciplinary Ph. D program at UNC Charlotte. As we mentioned, she is currently surveying leadership amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic and hopes to discover how leadership is evolving to learn more about her current and past work. Visit belkcollege dot uncc dot edu slash buzz B U Z Z Next time we talk with Dr. Patrick Madsen, director of the UNC Charlotte Career Center, about the future of careers, job interviews in the artificial intelligence age and how the university bridges classes to careers. Until next time. This is Charlotte business buzz connecting Charlotte business through one on one interviews with UNC Charlotte faculty, staff, alumni and industry partners, and is presented by the Belk College of Business, the Office of Industry and Government Partnerships and produced in association with University Communications