Maia Young is an associate professor of management and organizations. She joined the faculty at the UCLA Anderson School of Management in 2004 after earning her Ph.D. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She studies the psychology of individual decision making in the workplace, particularly the way that decisions can be affected by emotions, culture and religion.
Young has led and co-authored noteworthy research showing that a leader’s reputation is a measure of his or her “managerial mystique.” She says, “If you ask people if they believe in magical powers, very few of them would say yes. But their decisions might reflect a different answer.” Her studies found that when people aren’t aware of the means by which a leader achieves success, they are likelier to view that person as charismatic or visionary. Meanwhile, she says, “Leaders have to be good at what they do as well as manage others’ interpretation of their leadership and who they are.”
Young’s research interests include theories of control (for example, whether luck and fate are thought to play a role in one’s successes), well-being, the effects of discrimination in the workplace, and cross-cultural perceptions of leaders. Her newest research concerns the effect of emotions — particularly anger — on decision-making.
“I’m finding that anger can actually help people on certain tasks,” she says. “Some mistakes in judgment can be avoided by taking on a contrarian attitude, and anger spurs us to do that. Feeling a bit antagonistic can motivate a person to push against an irrelevant anchor or foresee flaws in a strategic plan, for example.”
Young’s research is motivated by the observation that emotional events that might trigger anger are common at work — as when a colleague gets credit for your hard work or when you aren’t given the resources to succeed. “The fact is that people have emotions,” she says, “How can you possibly keep them out of the workplace?” Young says that in her elective course, The Emotionally Intelligent Leader, “I try to acknowledge that in hiring someone, you are hiring their whole self. If you want people to perform at work, the organization needs to provide them a space where they can grow, be their best, and contribute to something bigger than they could individually do.” She has witnessed leaders changing their tack after taking her class, through a shift in their approach to communication, conflict and persuasion.
But can mystique be taught? “I teach students that persona can be cultivated,” says Young. “We have some say over the narratives of our lives.”
Young was awarded the 2008 Eric and E Juline Faculty Excellence in Research Award. Her research has been published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Journal of Management, American Psychologist, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making and Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. It has been covered by various media outlets, including The Economist, NPR’s Marketplace, strategy + business, Inc.com, Science Magazine and Psychology Today.