Work and Organizations Assistant Professor Le (Betty) Zhou shares answers to five questions that reveal the issues she's studying, following, teaching, and reading about today. Plus a peek into the life she imagines, were she not teaching at the Carlson School

Q: What is/are your current area(s) of research? What business challenges are you helping to solve?

A: My research focuses on leadership in groups and teams. Most of my empirical research projects have studied middle-level managers who are team or project leaders. I have been trying to understand how these leaders develop and motivate their team members, so individuals and groups can achieve performance goals set by the organization while maintain or improve their own well-being.

The group a manager is leading today may look completely different three to five years in the future in terms of demographics, tenure, and experiences.

One of the challenges my recent research has been trying to address is the changing demographic trends in the workplace. Older employees continue to defer their retirement age. More women are trying to join the management team. In addition, more expertise and knowledge are in flux, as today’s employees on average spend a shorter time in one job. The group a manager is leading today may look completely different three to five years in the future in terms of demographics, tenure, and experiences.

In a series of projects, I am studying how team leaders can motivate a mix of newcomers and veterans with different backgrounds to learn from each other, stay socially connected, and efficiently accomplish tasks.


Q: What current business issues or stories in the news are you following and why?

A: I have been following issues and stories about workplace diversity and human resources management practices, as they are related to my research interest and teaching. For example, how have companies managed the millennial generation in the U.S. labor force? How are observers and the organization reacting to sexual harassment accusations (e.g., the Roger Ailes story)? I like incorporating these cases to my lectures and encouraging students to apply what they learned in textbook to analyze these real-world events.

I hope [students] walk away more equipped to critically analyze a problem.


Q: What is your favorite class to teach?

A: I love both of my classes: Introduction to Management for first year undergraduate students and a human resources research seminar for junior PhD students. I always get a healthy dose of fresh ideas from students in both classes. I hope they walk away more equipped to critically analyze a problem.


Q: If you weren’t a business school professor, what would you be doing?

A: I may be a journalist, still doing research, reading, and writing. But I'd travel more.


Q: What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

A: Among the books not directly related to my research, the best read I had was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a very moving reflection on his career choices and his profession. Although I don’t do research on the topic of the meaning of work, I think this book provides an excellent example of work as a calling.