Study Co-authored by Wellesley's Hahrie Han Examines How Team Dynamics Influence Leadership

July 2, 2013

What organizational factors make for the most committed leaders? An award-winning study co-authored by Hahrie Han, associate professor of political science, sought to answer that question.

"One way to get stellar leadership is to recruit the perfect volunteer leader with scads of free time, a strong connection to your cause and the needed skills and resources," Han said. "That person might be out there, but our research suggests a more likely path to success: get volunteers you already have to commit more."

Han, along with Matthew Baggetta of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Kenneth T. Andrews of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, used data collected from over 1,600 Sierra Club volunteer leaders to try to determine what elements of their work affected their level of commitment to the group.

The paper, “Leading Associations: How Individual Characteristics and Team Dynamics Generate Committed Leaders,” found that in interdependent leadership teams—where the success of the group is dependent on the collective efforts of team members—individuals tended to be more committed and give more time to the organization. Further, in teams where time commitment was evenly dispersed, individuals were more committed; more time spent in meetings correlated with less committed volunteer leaders; and the more formal training leaders receive, the more hours they contribute.

"This research implies that associations like the Sierra Club that seek more committed leaders are better off getting current leaders to act as interdependent, fair, efficient teams rather than by seeking out new leaders with more free time or issue motivation," Han said.

According to her co-author Baggetta in an Indiana University Press Release, "The bottom line of our analysis is encouraging for organizers. Improve how you work, share and meet, and you just might find the leaders you already have are the ideal volunteer leaders you were wishing for."

Hahrie Han is an associate professor of political science. She researches civic engagement, political participation, civic organizations, polarization, health and environmental politics.