When Jeff Houghton was working on a MBA at West Virginia University back in the late 1980s in Armstrong Hall, former home of the College of Business and Economics, it did not even occur to him that he would one day be teaching management at that very college.
Nor did he even dream that his name would be mentioned in numerous management journals because he had developed an accurate scale for measuring self-leadership or that he'd be able to ride his bike to work.
Dr. Houghton is an associate professor of management and industrial relations and coordinator of the Master of Science in Industrial Relations (MSIR) program, and he seems to be enjoying himself.
He earned a degree in economics at Fairmont State University and after earning an MBA at WVU, he went into banking for several years. During this time he met leaders: good, bad and indifferent leaders, and he became fascinated with the question of what caused the striking differences among them.
"When I worked in banking as a management trainee, I encountered all kinds of people in leadership," he recalled. "Some were a delight. Some were terrible. Leadership is a big challenge involving how to influence and motivate people, and I became interested in how leadership is shaped."
He left banking and pursued that question at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where he earned a Ph.D. in management in 2000 and wrote a dissertation that explored the concept of self-leadership. This term was first given prominence by Charles Manz, Nirenberg Professor of Leadership at the Isenberg School of Management, University of Amherst. Manz was a colleague of Dr. Christopher Neck in the department of management at Virginia Tech. Neck was on Houghton's dissertation committee.
Part of his dissertation provided a revision of a self-leadership questionnaire that established a better measurement, published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology and subsequently cited in many management journals and translated into six languages.
This year Houghton, who came to WVU's faculty in 2007, is teaching Ph.D. students for the first time in the College's new management doctoral program, an agreeable activity that he says is helping him stay on top of management issues more than ever before. "I assign my students five to eight journal articles each week, and we meet in my office and discuss them," he said. "Of course, this means I read them as well, which is really keeping me on my toes with current research in the field. In fact, it's invigorating my own research."
At first, he admits, he was intimidated by the course, a three-hour seminar on leadership. "With what, I thought, would we fill three hours? But we have these long conversations on the readings," he said, "and this is the most fun I've had in a long time."
He and his students are planning to present a paper soon on how people select leaders and how they decide upon the "ideal leader."
These kinds of questions are good topics for his MBA and MSIR classes, too, where he often uses examples of leadership in sports and politics, including Bobby Knight, the former coach at Indiana University and Texas Tech University, and Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State.
"Students have a lot to say about sports and political figures," he said. "Knight, for example, is a very polarizing leader. Isaiah Thomas, who played for him at Indiana, once said there were times when if he had had a gun he would have shot him, and there were other times when he wanted to put his arms around him, hug him and tell him that he loved him! And Clinton has been perceived as both too masculine and too feminine at various points in her political career. She's the perfect example of some of the challenges women can face in leadership."
In addition to enjoying his academic undertakings, Houghton is glad to be back home after 14 years away. He was born and raised in Fairview, W.Va., near Morgantown, and learned Appalachian music from his uncles and cousins. He plays the upright bass. "I loved this music as a kid and thought I could play the bass, although I'm a little rusty now."
With his wife, Loree, and children, Pierce age 5 and Sloan age 2, he lives in the South Park area of Morgantown, which enables him to ride a bicycle to work during fair weather. It's a rather quick trip, just a few minutes down the hill to the Monongahela River rail trail and across Beechurst Avenue to the B&E building. So, he has found a way to make the trip last a little longer on his return home by using the Decker's Creek rail trail through Marilla Park and into South Park from the opposite direction.
"I can bike to work faster than I can drive," he commented. "In many ways, it's very nice to be home in West Virginia. I often think back 20 years,and I would never have thought I'd be on the faculty here. I've been pretty fortunate."
In addition to leadership and self-leadership, Houghton's teaching and research interests include team processes and performance, international human resource management, creativity, innovation, and personality and individual differences.
His research has been published in numerous academic journals including the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Journal of Business and Psychology, Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, Team Performance Management, Human Resource Management Review,Public Personnel Management and the Journal of Management Development. He has also presented his research at the annual meetings of several national and regional professional organizations, including the Academy of Management, the Southern Management Association, the Western Academy of Management and the Southwest Academy of Management.