Research Awards

Recognizing Research Achievement

Julian Barling, Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Borden Chair of Leadership at Smith School of Business, received the 2016 Research Excellence Award. Matthias Spitzmuller, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour, was the recipient of the 2016 New Research Achievement Award. The two were selected by an ad hoc committee of Smith scholars that annually assesses the achievements of the school’s researchers. In addition to the recognition, the honorees receive grants to support their research.

Julian Barling

Soon after he learned that he was the 2016 recipient of the Research Achievement Award, Julian Barling took out his CV and did a little math. Since establishing his academic career in Canada in 1984, after emigrating from South Africa, Julian penned more than 150 journal articles and some 60 book chapters, and wrote or edited 12 books. From that vast output, he could find only five that he produced solo, and four of those were editorials he wrote in his role as a journal editor.

“Every other article and book chapter that I’ve done has been with a current or former student,” he says. “I knew this implicitly but when I saw it, it hit me between the eyes, how much these people mean to me. . . I’ve been blessed to work with amazing grad students who, in many cases, become colleagues and close friends.”

Usually associated with the broad area of transformational leadership, where he has made significant research contributions, Julian is going deeper into the roots of leadership. Now he is far more interested in how growing up in poor socioeconomic circumstances or experiencing severe inequality affects the later emergence and nature of leadership.

“I’m fascinated by how poverty affects the motivation to lead in school years,” he says. “If you grow up in poverty, you end up in poorer quality schools. You will have a different quality of role model. Our first study was simply about whether you become a leader or not, and we found you’re less likely to.”

Among other things, future studies will look at the effects of stereotypes of poverty and how selection biases of hiring committees can be overcome.

In a way, Julian is coming full circle from his own days as a graduate student. “My PhD was on child psychology,” he says. “I’m going back to my psychology roots.”

Matthias Spitzmuller

Given his keen research interest in helping behaviour, Matthias Spitzmuller probably sees the glass as half full rather than half empty.

Matthias has two main streams of research. The first investigates what happens when employees go above and beyond the call of duty. How does such behaviour affect them and the groups and organizations in which they work? The second focuses on what motivates teams and the link between those motivations and team performance.

A current research project — and one he is most proud of — looks at what happens when a team member from an ethnic minority group offers to help. In a study involving Caucasian-dominated teams with only one non-Caucasian employee, the majority team members tended to attribute the helping behaviour of the outsider to the desire to ingratiate himself rather than to genuine altruism. But when a second minority member was added to a team, this negative effect disappeared. Suddenly, people were more careful in identifying the motives for their actions. “In the current political climate,” says Matthias, “this is an important finding.”

Matthias started at Smith in 2014, after four years as an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore. He completed his doctoral work in organizational behaviour at Michigan State University. He describes himself as a good conceptual thinker. “What I’ve been able to do is to integrate separate research streams or push the boundary in how we think about certain concepts or phenomena. That’s the skill most useful for me in my research.”

Matthias says the best part of research for him is the feedback he gets from mentors, peers, and students, so he was delighted to receive the New Research Achievement Award. “I felt very humbled because I know a lot of the people who have won it in the past, exceptional researchers. I’m also proud that I could show this to my mentors Linn Van Dyne and John Hollenbeck who invested in me that something came out of my PhD 10 years later.”