The science of leadership: A journey from survey research to field experimentation

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This is a personal account of the stages through which my thinking and my research career unfolded, beginning with student socialization into questionnaire-based survey research, through originating implicit leadership theory, to initiating “respite research” to study the effects of stress on strain without causal ambiguity, and finally to my adoption of field experimentation as the most internally and externally valid research method. It was a journey of breaking free of popular survey research methods and embracing causally unambiguous experimentation. It struck home for many, inasmuch as almost all the articles that my students and colleagues and I submitted reporting randomized field experiments were accepted for publication in top-tier journals. I describe my transition from survey research to field experimentation as it unfolded, provide successive examples of field experiments, and press home the major lesson: field experiments are doable, replicatable, and causally unambiguous. Moreover, they provide actionable cause-and-effect results that can propel our science forward and put useful tools into the hands of practitioners.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101472
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2021


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