Research led by medical school staff member finds organizational leader assessments lacking

Colleen Hayden, director of medical education and accreditation at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.

Colleen Hayden, director of medical education and accreditation at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, has worked for several supervisors over the course of her career. She also has been in leadership positions at the medical school for the last 10 years.

While pursuing her Ed.D. in organizational studies from the Wright State College of Education and Human Services, Hayden was able to find a great deal of research into employee engagement. But she couldn’t find information in academic literature focusing on leaders, those in charge of employees.

As part of her dissertation, she designed a study to help fill the absence of knowledge on the subject of leader engagement. Hayden was advised by Yoko Miura, associate professor of educational leadership and organizational studies, who served on Hayden’s dissertation committee as co-chair. Sharon Heilmann, professor and director of the M.S. in Leadership Development Program, also served as co-chair.

“Engagement in the workplace has been of great interest to me, as it includes our cognitive, emotional, and behavioral energies at play within the jobs we do,” Hayden said. “It struck me as I started to review the literature on employee engagement that focusing on leader engagement within the workplace was absent from the literature.”

From her doctoral studies, Hayden learned that valid measurement tools were needed to accurately assess the variable of leader engagement. In the case of her research question into leader-level engagement, she used a quantitative research design and employed targeted sampling to recruit participants, specifically those in formal leadership positions.

“Because employee engagement is a contributing factor to job satisfaction, retention and organizational citizenship behavior, it was hypothesized that high leader-level engagement could also contribute to decreased leader turnover and improved leader job satisfaction,” said Carol Patitu, professor and chair of leadership studies in education and organizations.

To measure for leader engagement, Hayden had planned to communicate with groups on LinkedIn whose members had interests in leadership, management and human resources. She planned to send them the Employee Engagement Scale (EES), published by Shuck, Adelson and Reio in 2017.

Hayden had hoped to capture a large audience to which she could send the assessment, which looks at 12 items and three factors. But she later found that she needed to broaden her approach and expanded her data collection to members of the International Leadership Association, personal contacts and an email listserv of a midwestern public university. In all, 147 formal leaders completed the EES. Hayden then ran confirmatory factor analysis, which is a type of structural equation modeling, to evaluate if data from the leaders fit the model structure of the EES.

“It was evident that using the EES as published was not ideal to measure for leader engagement. Yet review of modification indices provided interesting opportunities to improve the structure of the EES model for future analysis using data from formal leaders,” Hayden said. “Several survey items were actually associated with additional factors. For example, items that were associated with the behavioral factor may load better on the cognitive factor.”

“Methodologically, Colleen’s findings suggested we should consider new ways of gauging leaders’ engagement level, as well as different constructs for considering leaders’ engagement at work,” Miura said.

Hayden, who successfully defended her dissertation in November and will graduate with her Doctor of Education degree in December, is encouraged to continue investigating leader engagement. In the future, she would like to re-evaluate her data and make changes to the paths in the EES model based on the modifications identified when she completed her first analysis. She is eager to see if rearranging some of the paths in the EES might improve the overall model’s fit in measuring leader engagement.

“The support and education I have received in the Ed.D. in Organizational Studies Program over the last six years has been invaluable to both my career and my personal growth,” Hayden said. “The dedication of the faculty and the quality of the research methods and statistical analysis training I received were paramount in my ability to successfully complete my dissertation and continue to engage in research within my role in the Office of Medical Education at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.”

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