Emergent Leadership and Team Engagement: An Application of Neuroscience Technology and Methods

Abstract: Although the topic of employee engagement has gained increasing attention, little is known about engagement in team settings. In the current study, we examined individual engagement, emergent leadership, and team-level engagement in 31 teams of MBA students who attempted to solve a case problem dealing with corporate social responsibility. A feature of this study is the use of diverse methodologies to measure our key constructs. Individual engagement was measured psychometrically through self-ratings. Then for each team, an emergent leader and non-leader were identified based on ratings (primarily in terms of transformational leadership) from fellow teammates. Members were also assessed neurologically using electroencephalogram technology to determine their level of engagement during the team process. Our findings show that when individuals are highly engaged, there is a tendency for teammates to view them as leaders, rather than non-leaders. Further, emergent leadership is associated with a higher level of team-level engagement, measured neurologically, on the part of teammates when leaders are speaking. Conversely, less team-level engagement occurs when non-leaders speak. Our findings have implications not only for the engagement literature, but also for increasing organizational research that is attempting to incorporate neuroscience technology and methods.

Waldman, D., Wang, D.  Published in: The Best Paper Proceedings of the 2013 Academy of Management Meeting (Orlando, FL; Aug 9-13 2013).