Psychological Scientists in the Private Sector

Measuring Leadership

Mary Mannion-Plunkett My background in psychological science has provided me with an ability to be a critical thinker and to ask appropriate questions, but to do so without being critical of others. In completing my advanced degree, I learned to synthesize a lot of information, and discern the useful and valid from the chaff. I'm not one to take the latest and greatest "fad of the month" or "most favorable consultant" at face value.

I am part of the Boeing Leadership Center, an organization chartered to develop today's and tomorrow's Boeing leaders. My area of responsibility is Customer Relations, which includes evaluation/needs analysis and research. In the area of evaluation, we have a number of innovative "experiments" underway to measure our leadership development programs; among these are: a follow-on interview process that includes not only everyone in our organization but also a sample of our alumni; pre-post 360 competency assessments with our executives related to their participation in our two-week Executive Program; leveraging employee survey data to compare program graduates to non-graduates (aggregate and organizational level data); and other similar activities.

In the research arena, my colleagues and I are working on an exciting longitudinal study that looks at how Boeing leaders grow and develop over the life of their careers. Expanding on the work of previous researchers from the Center for Creative Leadership (a kind of a "think tank" for leadership development education and research, headquartered in Greensboro, NC), we are identifying key events that our first, middle, and executive-level leaders cite as significant turning points in their careers, and documenting the associated lessons learned from these events. In addition, we are analyzing the situational factors and personal strategies used by the leaders to navigate through those events.

Eventually, we will be defining and identifying predictors of advancement or derailment, as well as providing findings related to core values, mentoring advice, current challenges, etc. The ultimate goals are to provide our participants in the longitudinal study with a set of useful tools with which they can begin to chart their career path and/or mentor and coach others, and to provide the organization with an effective "on-the-job-development" program.

I can't say I ever expected to be in this job; that is, when I graduated, I didn't say 'I want to be a Senior Manager for Customer Relations for The Boeing Leadership Center, working in The Boeing Company's Corporate HR function.' I arrived here in a bit of a circuitous way, although most career journeys probably are circuitous. Like many of the participants in our longitudinal study, it is only in retrospect that I can identify certain experiences and associated lessons as being significant. However, all my positions have some common elements: Appropriate challenge, ability to learn new things and interact with new people, knowledgeable colleagues, flexibility (rather than a rigid job description), opportunities to accomplish something while doing what I like to do, and supportive bosses.

I'm not as current with the field as I'd like to be. I try to keep up with journals such as the Journal of Applied Psychology and Personnel Psychology, although I'm several months behind. I recently began teaching at a local university as an adjunct professor, which has helped connect me to the "latest and greatest" of theories and research. Plus, I work with some great colleagues who will often pass along articles of interest.

I don't get to be as "pure" in my science as I imagine my academic colleagues can be, especially when it comes to research design and statistics. Although I have several projects under way which I deem "experiments," they are far from being true experiments. The longitudinal study is a good example: Our volunteer participants are not "subjects," rather we consider them "partners." As such we interact with them, and provide them information and tools along the way which we intend to have an influence on them. I also think universities - good ones, anyway - encourage people to question; sometimes our business culture doesn't promote this as much as we could. On the other hand, I'm in a real live laboratory, and no two days are the same. Given our dynamic business environment, flexibility and agility in all that we do is a real key.

Here's my advice to people thinking about a job in the private sector: Take a broad view when you're thinking about the kinds of jobs that might be relevant to your background; take the approach that any job could be relevant. What's most important is to know what your skills are, and what interests and excites you. Then, figure out how to translate this into some tangible results for the company you want to work for. In other words, sell yourself to the company of your choice by demonstrating the value you can add to the bottom line. It's not enough to have "credentials"-you need to translate those credentials into "this is what I can do for you."

American Psychological Society
January 2001
Vol. 14, No. 1

2001 American Psychological Society
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