Organizational success is often attributed to the elite group of executives atop an organization and their ability to guide the organization into an uncertain future. However, developing and implementing strategy typically requires many members of both upper and middle management to communicate and shape strategy through formal (top-down) and/or informal (lateral, upward) processes of influence. Unfortunately, the patterns of communication and informal influence that often arise among upper- and middle-level management groups can pose problems for strategic effectiveness. Such leadership failures are common, costly, and cannot be addressed without a better understanding of who will lead and who will follow in the upper layers of organizations. Although prior research has examined the characteristics of top executives to understand firm effectiveness, scholars agree that how top managers and middle-level managers need to interact to propel their firms toward greater success remains a "black box". This project delves into this black box by advancing and testing new theory related to the multilevel causes and consequences of the networked patterns of leadership and communication processes that emerge in the upper levels of organizations. By studying the complex dynamics inherent in the leadership of large organizations, this project directly and positively impacts each participating organization as well as the aggregate economy that relies on these organizations.

This project leverages partnerships with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and the Gutierrez Energy Management Institute (GEMI) in order to conduct survey- and interview-based research with upper- and middle-level managers from approximately 50-75 organizations from a variety of industries (Study 1) and approximately 25 organizations within the Energy Industry -- an industry that is vital to national interests (Study 2). As a recruitment incentive, our research team is providing tailored feedback for each participating organization in the form of an hour-long virtual debrief presentation and personalized report delivered to senior executives. To maximize internal validity, field study results are being combined with a large-scale controlled laboratory experiment manipulating the drivers of leadership and communication networks in hierarchical multi-group systems (Study 3). Therefore, this research program connects micro-, meso-, and macro-level organizational theories and corresponding research methods in order to address critical and unanswered questions related to the drivers and outcomes of informal leadership and communication networks in the upper levels of organizations.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Georgia Chao
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Georgia
United States
Zip Code