Research Methods Make Bad Dinner Conversations
By Dr. Kelsey Medeiros
Whenever I bring up research methods at the dinner table (which is embarrassingly often), I notice that my dinner mates typically retreat from the conversation, nodding their head on occasion with an expression of, “when is this girl going to stop talking about work?”
It’s true – research methods don’t make for the best party conversation starters (trust me, I’ve tried) or date night chats (ugh, also tried!), but understanding how research is conducted is as critical as understanding the results of a study and why it was done in the first place. In fact, I’ve found in conversations with family and friends outside of academia that people often challenge my discussion of research findings on the basis of, “there’s no way you could test that” or, “how could someone possibly get data on that?” Inherent in these challenges is the question: How was the data collected?
Data collection isn’t a very sexy topic, but some methods are more enticing than others.
One particularly interesting research method proves especially useful in our understanding of leadership. This research method is known as a historiometric analysis, and it relies on historical data or content to understand a topic. Drs. Matthew Crayne and Sam Hunter recently provided an overview of this method in Organizational Research Methods. Check it out here. A great example of this is Hunter and colleague’s analysis of NFL and NCAA football coach biographies.
The researchers were attempting to find support for the CIP model of leadership, which argues that there are three pathways to outstanding leadership – charismatic (C), ideological (I), and pragmatic (P). In general, charismatic leaders tend to be positive and future focused. Examples include John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. In contrast, ideological leaders tend to rely on negative emotions and focus on the past. Examples of ideological leaders include Ronald Reagan and Fidel Castro. Lastly, pragmatic leaders typically use a less emotional approach, focusing on the present situation and how to rationally solve the problem at hand. Dwight D. Eisenhower provides a good example of a pragmatic leader. To study these approaches to leadership, Hunter and colleagues collected coach biographies and autobiographies, read them, and identified behaviors, philosophies, and quotes related to the three approaches to leadership (C, I, & P).
Using historical documents such as books or speeches provides quite a bit of information on these leaders, allowing for unique insight that is often not available through traditional experimental or survey methods. However, the process can be challenging. It requires large amounts of time to identify, read, and assess the content.
Despite these challenges, the ECO lab recently embarked on a historiometric study of our own. Although Hunter and colleagues provided important insights regarding CIP leadership styles in their football study, the sample only investigated men leading men. This is not a limitation unique to the football study. Much of the leadership literature and many of the leadership theories are based on samples of men. Why? Because historically, men have held a majority of leadership positions. As more women move into leadership positions, however, it is becoming increasingly important that we give voice to this demographic in the literature – specifically, leadership literature.
So, we set out to replicate the football study with a sample of women’s basketball coaches. For the past few months, myself, Kendall, and Hayden have been buried up to our noses in women’s NCAA basketball coach biographies. We’ve been so entrenched in these biographies that the coaches have even entered our dreams! I recently dreamed that Vivian Stringer and Pat Summit were critiquing my on-court performance (which was way below acceptable, might I add). I woke up in a panic!
It’s an exciting process and we are anxiously awaiting the day our coders finish assessing the coaches so we can begin analyzing how these women (and a few men) lead their teams.
A nice side effect of this project has also been a significant increase in our basketball knowledge! Perhaps my family, friends, or next date will find a discussion of basketball coaches slightly more riveting than my regular research method chat. But my excitement about this method will likely sneak its way into the conversation, somehow – how could it not? It’s so cool!
Check out our excitement levels in the video below – the day Amazon delivered our books!