GeneralResearchUNC Charlotte

Charlotte Gets A Federal Grant For Leadership Science

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte is spearheading innovative research aimed at enhancing leadership effectiveness in digital landscapes. An interdisciplinary team from UNC Charlotte’s Center for Leadership Science (CLS) has secured a substantial $692,881 federal grant from the U.S. Army Research Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences. This grant, covering a span of three years, will support the team’s exploration of artificial intelligence technologies to improve leader and team dynamics in virtual settings.

The project is led by George Banks, co-director of the CLS and a prominent figure in the university’s Belk College of Business. “With the rise of online work and virtual teamwork, effective training of leaders is increasingly important. Yet the current tools and approaches to evaluate leaders, such as 360-degree assessments, can be vulnerable to subjective bias,” said Banks, who also chairs the Department of Management and teaches in the interdisciplinary Organizational Science Ph.D. program.

The research team, including Scott Tonidandel, Wenwen Dou, and Eric Heggestad—all faculty members of the CLS—will delve into the nuances of virtual leadership. Their work aims to confront the challenges posed by the evolving dynamics of online workplaces. “Even as work in online contexts has expanded, the field of leadership development has not adapted to new settings and the changing needs of a wide array of leaders and emerging leaders. We have little understanding of effective leader behaviors in virtual settings, and there are limited tools to train aspiring leaders to work effectively with teams in online settings,” Banks elaborated.

Their approach involves developing a machine learning algorithm that identifies key verbal behaviors of leaders during virtual meetings. This pioneering method promises to minimize biases by focusing on objective data—what leaders actually say—rather than subjective interpretations.

This new line of inquiry not only holds potential benefits for military leadership but also offers actionable insights for businesses and organizations, particularly within the Charlotte region. The project also receives support from Charlotte’s interdisciplinary School of Data Science and a Truist grant, reinforcing the collaborative and community-oriented ethos of UNC Charlotte.

Looking ahead, the research will not only analyze verbal communications during virtual meetings but also expand to encompass digital communications like emails and social media. The team plans to conduct three specific studies: developing the algorithmic model, validating this model, and finally, assessing the impact of model-derived feedback on leaders and teams.

This initiative at UNC Charlotte showcases the university’s commitment to cutting-edge research and its application in real-world scenarios, ensuring that the leaders of tomorrow are equipped to thrive in increasingly digital work environments.

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