Visionaries - May 25, 2018

Spirit of Leadership

Leadership is really about surfacing and enhancing elements of yourself
in order to more effectively influence others.
Dr. Matrecia James

Dr. Matrecia S. L. James is an Associate Professor of Management atJacksonville University’s Davis College of Business. Highly praised by the college’s new dean, Dr. Don Capener, in addition to teaching MBA and Executive MBA courses, she’s also the Accreditation and Assessment Coordinator for the college.

Prior to obtaining her Ph.D. from the College of Business at the Florida State University,in Business Administration, focusing on Organizational Behavior Dr. James obtained a Bachelors of Science Degree in Business Administration from the School of Business and Industry at Florida A & M University and a Master’s Degree in Business Education from the College of Education, also at Florida A&M University.

In addition to her academic and management responsibilities for the Davis College of Business, in an effort to expand college’s community outreach initiatives, Dr. James has designed a program to serve individuals in leadership within the Jacksonville business community.

Entrepreneurs Anchor: How long have you been associated with the Davis School of Business?

Dr. James: I came here in the fall of 2005, so I’ve been here seven years.

EA: And you’re the Chairperson of the Management Department, of the college’s MBA and Executive MBA programs?

Dr. James: Actually I was the Management Department Coordinator. We’ve restructured, and now have separate chairs for each department instead of divisions. I manage the AACSB [Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business] and SACS [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools] accreditation processes within the Davis College of Business.

EA: One of your areas of research, writing and academic implementation has focused on workplace spirituality. That can be a misconstrued topic since especially in the U.S., we strive to be inclusive and not even bring religion into an academic environment or workplace.

Dr. James: I published an article entitled “Interactive Effects of Spirituality and Trait Cynicism on Performance,” which was published in the “Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion.” When we talk about spirituality, we’re not talking about religion, because religion focuses on practices, rituals and specific creeds. Whereas spirituality focuses on your connectedness and belief that you have a divine purpose in your life and/or how your perceive yourself connected to a higher power. A connectedness and relationship to something bigger than you are.

EA: And likewise, everyone else is, too.

Dr. James: Right. So we’re not espousing that businesses should institute specific religious practices, or persuade people to bring and espouse their religious beliefs at work. However, it allows and encourages you to bring your whole self to work. Studies have shown employees are more creative at work when they’re allowed to be themselves, and to embrace their own spirituality. A study I did focused on the interactive relationship between workplace spirituality and its impact on counterproductive work and organizational citizenship behaviors.

EA: And that is?

Dr. James: Organizational citizenship behaviors are things you do above and beyond your job description. You come to work early; you work late. Or if you finish your Action Items for the day you’re going to help others accomplish what they’d set out to do. In that regard, everyone in the organization benefits from the collective teamwork and fellowship. We found that the more often employees execute and express that type of behavior within an organization, the greater that firm benefits. So in that aspect, I believe spirituality is a thing we have to allow people to express.

One of the big things before spirituality was emotions and it was like, “check your emotions at the front door … don’t bring them into the workplace.” But who can really do that? Realistically, you’re a whole person, you bring your whole self to work, and if organizations can accept you as a whole person, then you feel that you’re valued to a greater extent. I also wrote a paper, that’s currently under review, which is more about organizations being support-focused and less cynical. It shows when an organization demonstrates more support for its employees,not just as a means to an end, but as individuals, those employees are generally less cynical and become more productive. And in today’s tough economy and sometimes get-it-done-no-matter-how corporate environment, one can easily see how and why employees can become cynical, which, in turn, diminishes their enthusiasm for doing their best on a project or at their job in general. So the idea is for organizations to explore ways to reduce that, and to foster a more positive focus at work. It’s a human trait that we all want to feel valued and appreciated. Not just as a way for an organization to generate profits by paying us for our workplace skills, but as a whole person contributing to the success of an organization, in myriad ways.

EA: Dean Capener discussed different ways JU is reaching out to the community to offer what he calls “its intellectual capital” to the city-at-large. I understand you’re heading up a new initiative to achieve that.

Dr. James: Yes, I designed a program to serve individuals in leadership within the Jacksonville business community. The program is a three month certificate program that included a series of workshops, speaker series, mentorships and a personal development plan. The program will be delivered in conjunction with a local community organization that fosters business development.* The initiative is to create a connection with the business community and to serve what we’ve identified as an underserved population, meaning women who have started their own businesses and women in corporate America who are in mid-level management. For the entrepreneurship level, we’re looking at “Level 2,” meaning they’re past that initial start-up stage of their business.

EA: They’ve already opened their doors and/or set up their website.

Dr. James: Right, and are running it on a daily basis. We’re going to provide them with skills that aren’t readily taught. We’re not talking about such technical skills as finance, accounting, bookkeeping, IT, etc. You can pretty much learn that via a variety of methodologies. But it’s those “softer” skills, if you will, which are still extremely important to a successful business, such as understanding the importance of human capital. So we have a number of outcomes that we expect, which we want them to focus on.

EA: Such as?

Dr. James: Ethics in the workplace and the importance of implementing that mindset and how that’s operationalized. How as a leader, do you convey that to your employees throughout your organization? Another area of study is to assist employees in identifying their personal leadership strengths and weaknesses, to ascertain categories of leadership traits or executive characteristics that are needed. We’ll look at various traits and attitudes that lead to derailment and help business owners/managers figure out ways to avoid that. We’ll discuss how to use one’s influence to initiate sustainable flexibility because the business environment is in a perpetual state of change, so people throughout an organization have to learn how to deal effectively with that, especially in today’s global, technologically advanced economy. We’ll also develop our participants’ communication skills, which are not just verbal, but also involve body language, facial expressions, sharpening one’s listening skills, learning how to be more attentive, how to be more empathetic, etc. We’ll also focus on the business analytics, which is applying those technical skills you’ve used to really enhance your business.

EA: Can you go into more detail about that?

Dr. James: If you have a seasonal business, you may make a lot of money between October and mid-January, but you might not do so well during the following business cycles. So it’s learning how to forecast and prepare. You don’t use your peak season to say this is your anticipated profit; you actually have to learn how to spread that out to have a more realistic view of your profit and expenses throughout the entire year and be able to manage to that. We’ll also focus on aspects of leadership versus management, because those are the areas that are typically under-provided for that segment of the business population. And then there are also requisite workplace political skills — which most people misinterpret as a bad word when mentioned — but in this context, but it’s really about learning about how to promote yourself authentically. A lot of people have unrecognized or “invisible” achievements because no one knows about them. You may have saved an entire segment of the business or gone out of your way to retain an important client that was going to disassociate themselves from your business, but you may have never received credit for doing that because no one knew what action steps you took to solve that problem. So you didn’t reap the benefits of your contribution. We’ll address the proper protocols on how to do that within an organization.

For example, if I’m a team leader or department manager, I can make certain that the people in my department receive the accolades they deserve and it’s implied that they were able to accomplish those tasks because they had a good leader. For example, let’s say I’m working with a group of students on personal development that is doing detailed self-improvement plans, and they’re doing a wonderful job. I show their work to the dean and say, “Look at these students. They’re doing an outstanding job on their development plans; they’ve really put a lot of thought and time into this project. They’ve analyzed their strengths and weaknesses, they’ve identified some key areas in which they want to grow, and have come up with S.M.A.R.T. goals and have instigated realistic plans of action to achieve them.” Do I ever need to say to him, “Look, I helped them do this and I showed them how to go about it?” No. In essence, when providing positive leadership, individuals don’t t need to sell themselves because it’s implied that the work was done under the direction of and inspired by a good leader.

For more information, contact Dr.

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