Spotlight on Guest Speaker Cynthia Lee from Northeastern University

Arvel Chandra

IMBA Class of 2018


This week I had a very interesting opportunity to attend one of guest lecturers offered by Renmin Business School in collaboration with many business schools around the world. The lecturer was from Northeastern University and the topic of this lecture is “Does Proactive Personality Matter in Leadership Transitions? Effects of Proactive Personality on New Leader Identification and Responses to New Leaders and Their Change Agendas” which basically told us a research that she had done with her colleagues in study of learning the transition behavior. There were three other researchers in this study, which came from different universities across the world. Therefore, cross-region communication was very important in this research and incredibly, all the researchers were women who have extensive experience in the field. They were Wing Lam from Hong Kong Polytechnic, M. Susan Taylor from University of Maryland, and H. Helen Zhao from University of Hong Kong.

I had a chance to attend this course, because it was held in the morning of our summer break at RBS when students were less busy with their own classes. There were many people who attended this course and the audiences varied, such as professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students. The class was so popular that some people had to take extra chairs from other classes in order to listen to Cynthia’s lecture. Cynthia tried to focus her study to understand proactive behavior in leadership transition and she and her team narrowed their sample into hospitality industry. Some challenges that she found in proving her hypotheses were in the timeline of collecting the data, because most people in China would leave and be recruited between Chinese New Year holidays, which created a big gap of transition between former and new leader. She also needed to narrow the participants in her study as the attrition rate was exceptionally high in the hospitality industry.

Cynthia also explained about the purpose and the findings of the research in very friendly yet structured lecture. She brought a new point of view which was, the quality of new leader should be assessed by the former leader. It is unavoidable that people always compare the quality of new leader from the former leader, because people always make comparison consciously or unconsciously. As for example, she correlated the theory with real life phenomenon with Trump’s election. She stated that the reason Trump won the election was because people wanted change and Trump had been able to proactively catch American citizen with changes that he could bring in his leadership, where Hillary’s leadership often associated with the style of her predecessor (Obama).

The course went very interestingly for all audiences, as people were very encouraged to ask question regarding her research. Some audiences were confusing about the differences in choosing the leader. Professor Lee was very responsive in answering the question by giving analogy of choosing school dean in Northeastern University. Even though both former and new leader were good, people have a tendency to choose a leader that can bring different and new things for the team, because changes and improvement were more attractive than the stagnancy of leadership. She added that proactive leadership would help the team to understand about the leader’s vision and mission better as the proactive leader often show their quality and the way of their leadership style.

Instead of one way communication, the Q&A session was more like discussion and encouragement for audiences for future studies that may answer some questions which would be worthy to be researched about. Also, she showed the findings of her research that proactive behavior really did help in transition of leadership. It could help smooth the transition between former and new leader. In the end, I learned a new knowledge that would help me improve my understanding in business leadership transition. There was a quote from Professor Lee that stroked me most at that time. The quote was” the best team is the team that illustrates proactive behavior plus proactive personality of its leader”. In the end, it was very productive morning and it was very great that RBS offer this opportunity.