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Category: Faculty and Staff

Staley School faculty updates

As the spring semester came to a close, the Staley School of Leadership Studies had an opportunity to reflect on our only sure constant – change. As we enter the summer months, we celebrate some of life’s milestones with our faculty and staff – new jobs, new babies, and new adventures.

First – welcome! During the 2019-2020 academic year we welcomed many new faces to our team and learning community. With the second cohort of our Ph.D. program in leadership communication came several graduate assistantships and with some reorganization, came additional staff.

  • Mac Benavides, graduate teaching assistant
  • Tess Hobson, graduate teaching assistant
  • Tamas Kowalik, graduate research assistant
  • Aliah Mestrovich-Seay, instructor
  • Mafule Moswane, graduate teaching assistant
  • Kim Ralston, communications administrator
  • Natasha Taylor, office specialist

Second – congratulations! We extend our joy with our faculty who have brought new lives into this world!

  • Daniel Edward Lee, Chance and Tracey Lee
  • Macario “Rio” Thomas Benavides Yanez, Mac Benavides and Ruddy Yanez Benavides
  • Aizik Stanley Cebula, Amanda and Alan Cebula
  • Mateo Clark Seay-Kang, Aliah Mestrovich Seay andDon Sae KangBaby photos

Finally – farewell, and best wishes! At the end of spring semester, the Staley School and our Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellows program said goodbye to our resident fellow, Tori Burkhart. We can’t wait to hear about all the ways she exercises leadership at Indiana University in the Higher Education and Student Affairs master’s program.

COVID-19 and the biopolitical moment for leadership

In this special blog series, Staley School of Leadership Studies professor Brandon W. Kliewer considers an approach to teaching leadership that can further develop our capacity to exercise leadership during the COVID-19 outbreak.


The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us all of the fragility of human life. As the world assesses the damage and begins to consider appropriate paths forward, leadership scholars, developers, and practitioners are increasingly confronted with a series of biopolitical questions. The objective of this short essay is to introduce the biopolitical as a concept relevant to the interdisciplinary field of leadership studies and leadership in practice.

Biopolitics, as a clearly delineated idea, finds its origins in the writing of Michel Foucault[i]. Since its inception, the biopolitical turn has been taken up by a range of scholars in a variety of disciplinary contexts.[ii] Giorgio Agamben[iii], established biopolitical questions as a stable concept for study and consideration in practice. His argument suggested totalitarian regimes and the degree to which mass genocide was operationalized using principles of 20th century industrialization fundamentally re-shaped the relationship between life and political contestation.

The inherent value of sustaining one’s life was now subject to a type of politicization that had not previously been possible.  Matters of basic human existence became subject to political contestation due to modern technological advancement, bureaucratic processes associated with industrialization, and a recognition that evil was not the result of some extreme circumstance but instead a banal[iv] existence that fails to acknowledge the conditions that allows evil actions to exist. The ways in which power was experienced and the range and quality of choice available to people become contested as it related to matters of basic human existence.


Biopolitics = Life (Recognizing the Intrinsic Value of Life) + Politics (Power and Choice)

            Biopolitics has since become a lens to analyze claims to human rights, reproductive rights, transgender rights, issues of immigration/migration (particularly the US-border crisis) and the legitimacy of the use of force by the state (particularly state-sanctioned violence disproportionately focused on black and brown bodies) – among others. The COVID-19 global pandemic and considerations associated with re-opening society have exposed leadership studies and leadership in practice to questions of the biopolitical. The purpose of this introduction is to highlight ways biopolitical considerations intersect people exercising leadership from positions of formal authority, people exercising leadership from positions of informal authority, and how leadership scholars theorize leadership.


Leadership in practice

Approaches to the process and rate at which communities, businesses, and civic institutions return to “normal” activities unfortunately seems to track ideological divisions in the U.S. An account of biopolitical questions, provides a framework for people trying to exercise leadership, from both a position of formal and informal authority, to navigate this contestation.

Leadership from Formal Authority

Elon Musk provides an interesting case study for how biopolitical questions might be addressed when leadership activity extends from formal position. Musk made the national news when he defied government orders and re-started operations at his Alameda county Telsa factory. Considered by most a decision outside his formal role and the limits of legal authority, Musk’s decision to open his factory raises a series of biopolitical questions. I will highlight how analysis of biopolitical questions helps make sense of the relationship between Musk’s decision to re-open his factory and the employees that fill that factory.

Musk announced on Twitter that he would be on the line with workers when his factory re-opened outside the government’s public health safety order. If workers chose to return to work, knowing the risks to themselves and others, then it seems appropriate to say Musk exercised leadership at the edges of his authority. This assessment brackets any considerations of the ethics of such leadership activity. However, it is not clear the range or the quality of the choice available to the average line worker at the Tesla factory. If the choice was to return to work or be fired, lose unemployment benefits, the ability to eat, to pay rent, and meet basic material needs for survival, the “choice” seem less than free. In fact, if the choice was less than free Musk’s actions would not be considered leadership activity but instead a form of soft coercion. Individuals trying to exercise leadership from a position of formal authority might consider the following questions when trying to take account of the intersection of their leadership activity and biopolitical questions:

What are the circumstances of a choice to return to work? Is there a meaningful possibility to choose not to return to work without significant hardship that threatens essential survival? What were the circumstances of how the choice was made? Is one person, likely the owner of a firm, making the decision for others. Or, are workers organized in a way that helps determine their collective level of exposure, safety conditions in the work environment, and determining when a threat of exposure becomes too high? If power to decide was distributed more evenly between workers and the owner, we might decide that the collective agency or “popular will” of the workers was an appropriate act of civil disobedience. Again, this does not consider the potential health impact beyond the owners and workers of the firm in question.

Leadership from Informal Authority

If you are attempting to influence the way society re-opens from a place of informal authority, the biopolitical lens might provide a different perspective. Our baser instincts might want to coerce pro-social behaviors intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through public shaming. Efforts to public shame others does not align with an understanding of leadership activity that values choice or even evidence-based public health strategies.

A more practical approach might be to educate others on the risks to themselves and others when social distancing and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guidelines are not followed. The individual right of choice, to accept exposure and potentially to expose others to COVID-19, is tempered by our civic obligations to those more vulnerable in society – the elderly and those with a compromised immune system. Wearing a face covering, practicing physical distancing, and avoiding large crowds represents a burden on your range of choice, but when understood within a larger context of a global crisis, these temporary limits are reasonable civic obligations that we owe to each other. Consider the following: What obligations do we owe others when trying to exercise leadership? What level of burden should an individual accept when recognizing obligations to others during a global crisis?


Leadership studies

Leadership studies has increasingly created space for scholarship that has taken a critical, collective, and constructivist lens.[v] This stream of scholarship considers how dialogical, relational, and socio-material interactions produce leadership.[vi] From this paradigm and lens a gap in leadership theory has emerged. Existing Leadership-as-Practice (LaP) theory is not currently equipped to account for the intersections of leadership and the biopolitical. LaP is “…concerned with how leadership emerges and unfolds through day-to-day experience.”[vii] Opportunities to better account for the biopolitical in LaP theory is seen in two areas of the literature.

First, from the perspective of LaP, the biopolitical foregrounds the practice of everyday life. If leadership emerges from the interactions of groups and systems, there must be a way to account for biopolitical questions. Determining who, how, and under what circumstance people and systems are exposed to COVID-19 shapes the possibility of leadership activity. LaP theory must account for how biopolitical questions are accounted for in dialogical, relational, and socio-material interactions. The perceived presence or absence of a viral threat to life impacts the ways groups and systems interact to emerge leadership. Demographic information suggests a wide racial and class disparity in who has contracted and died from the virus in the US. Racial and class disparities highlight patterns in groups and systems that impact how and under what circumstances interactions are recognized as leadership activity.

Second, it is well-established that LaP has a socio-material dimension.[viii] However most spatial accounts of leadership limit the operationalization of space to what can be physically seen by the eye and experienced in relation to each other. The COVID-19 outbreak requires leadership scholars to reconsider how space and socio-materiality is theorized in leadership. Spatial dimensions of leadership need to move beyond accounting for the relation between bodies, language, and physical objects to a conceptual level that provides frameworks for how groups and systems make sense of associated interactions. COVID-19 and associated global crisis has shown the upper limits to how space and socio-materiality is currently theorized in Leadership.

One thing that is quickly becoming apparent is that the biopolitical questions of leadership and space are approached differently depending on whether they are situated within rural or urban environments. LaP theory development ought to make more of an effort to not only account for a wider range of conceptual space, but consider spatial dimensions of leadership through the lens of ideology, culture, and context. This theoretical concern quickly bumps up against questions of practice as fundamental assumptions of our global system and society are reconsidered following a pandemic.


[i] Foucault, M “Society must be defended,” Lecture at the Collège de France; Right of Death and Power over Life

[ii] Campbell, T & Sitze, A, Biopolitcs: A reader

[iii] Agamben G, Homor sacer: Sovereign power and bare life; The pollicization of life

[iv] Arendt H, The origins of totalitarianism; Arendt considers how evil is not the result of extreme circumstance, but the banal existence in bureaucratic process and administrative efficacy is what creates the conditions for evil to exist.

[v] Ospina SM, Foldy EG, Fairhurst GT, & Jackson B (2020) Collective dimensions of leadership: Connecting theory and method, Human Relations 73(4): 441-463; Raelin JA (2016a) Imagine there are no leaders: Reframing leadership as collaborative agency. Leadership 12(2): 131-158; Raelin JA (2016b) Introduction to Leadership-As-Practice. In: Joeseph A. Raelin (ed.), Leadership-As-Practice: Theory and Practice. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 1-17.

[vi] Isaacs W (1993) Dialogue: The power of collective thinking, Leadership 4(3):1-4; Crevani L (2015) Relational leadership: In: Carroll, B, Ford, J, Taylor, S (eds) Leadership: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, London, UK: SAGE, pp. 188-211; Simpson, B., Buchan, L., and Sillince, J. (2018) The performativity of leadership talk, Leadership, 14(6), 644-661.

[vii] Raelin, JA (2016) Leadership-as-Practice: Theory and Application. New York, NY: Routledge; 3.

[viii] Salovaara A, Sauer E, and Ropo P (2013) Embodiment of leadership through material place, Leadership. 9(3): 378-395.


Third Floor Research: Measuring the impact of leadership development

In this special blog series, Staley School of Leadership Studies professor Tim Steffensmeier and leadership communication doctoral student, Tamas Kowalik, consider an approach to teaching leadership that can further develop our capacity to exercise leadership during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The impact of leadership development programs oftentimes seems obvious as principles and skills acquired are put into practice in the daily operation of organizations. Anecdotal evidence and testimonies abound regarding the positive impact of leadership trainings. Moreover, it is common practice to evaluate leadership trainings to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Third Floor Research was developed to test and expand upon the ways we measure leadership development. We are curious about how leadership development affects individuals and organizations that are working to make progress on difficult challenges.

Third Floor Research, a partnership with the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) and the Staley School of Leadership Studies, was launched in 2017 to foster innovation on how leadership is exercised and to advance the field of leadership development. The applied research center focuses primarily on the leadership that is needed to make progress on adaptive challenges. The work is to collect and analyze data that produces useful findings on how to exercise leadership.

Despite a multi-billion-dollar leadership industry, there is a paucity of research focused on the impact of leadership development, particularly outside of formal education settings. We lack enough evidence and understanding about the degree to which leadership development improves outcomes. Third Floor Research aims to narrow that gap with a large-scale, multi-partner research center housed at KLC that studies leadership development initiatives. Two primary strategies to attain that goal are research projects and a global database.

Global database
A key solution to understanding the impact of leadership development is the creation of a global database. The database will house participant data from leadership development programs operating in various places in the United States and abroad.

The collected data will include: participant demographics, dosage of leadership content, program support level and participant leadership progress. The database uses a uniform set of data points to offer funders, teachers and curriculum designers a way to measure the impact of their leadership program in relation to other initiatives. The hope is that it will offer programs a way to assess the long-term impacts of their trainings while offering a way to compare and contrast various programs.

Research projects
Third Floor Research is also conducting research projects on an annual basis. From 2019 to 2020, three research projects were completed:

  • Developing leadership capacities in high-tech industry
  • Leadership development and employee engagement in nonprofits
  • Impact of Community leadership programs on work and community engagement

These studies focus on different contexts that use the Kansas Leadership Center’s competency-based approach to leadership. The KLC framework is built on the idea that leadership is an activity available to anyone (O’Malley and Cebula, 2015). As Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky (2009) highlights: “We find it extremely useful to see leadership as a practice, an activity that some people do some of the time” (p. 24). Moreover, exercising leadership is about mobilizing people to address difficult, adaptive challenges. These studies found significant findings that correlate KLC’s leadership development training to individual and organizational change. The selected key findings from each study noted below demonstrate our research projects capturing the impact of leadership development.

Study 1: Developing leadership capacities in high-tech industry

Employees are thinking about and doing their work differently

After two years of leadership development trainings for employees at various levels at a site of a fortune 500 high tech company, employees were more confident and prepared to engage in leadership interventions. These include: employees use a shared language to overcome conflict and engage more collaboratively to break down silos across units in the company; employees are more prepared to experiment and try new things; and employees are paying attention to the adaptive challenges in their work.

Study 2: Leadership development and employee engagement in nonprofits

Leadership development = enhanced employee engagement

Employees who are likely to use leadership concepts in their daily work are more committed to their organization, more hopeful about the organization’s future and more satisfied with their job.

Study 3: Impact of Community leadership programs on work and community engagement

Twice as likely to serve in a civic role

After participating in a KLC skills-based leadership training, participants are twice as likely to serve in a civic role (e.g. board member, elected official, advisory group, committee member) compared to generalist leadership programs and the general population.

These findings, alongside the global database, represent attempts to measure the impact of leadership development. Ultimately, we are testing the hypothesis that developing the capacity of many people to exercise leadership on adaptive challenges leads to faster and more progress. While that prediction involves a complex set of interactions, Third Floor Research represents a growing group of scholars and practitioners that are working to understand the collective impact of leadership as activity.


O’Malley and Cebula (2015). Your Leadership Edge. Kanas Leadership Center Press, Wichita, Kansas.

Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky (2009). The Practice of Adaptive Leadership. Harvard Business Press, Boston

Recognizing students for leadership and service

On Sunday, May 3, students, faculty, staff, friends and family from the Staley School of Leadership Studies and across Kansas State University gathered to recognize the success and honor the achievements of several K-State students at the Celebrating Service and Leadership awards program.

For the first time since the inception of this awards program, the event took place digitally over Zoom and Facebook Live. While guests could not gather physically, the importance and value of coming together was not lost in this virtual event.

“These awards, these students who receive them, are so deserving of recognition, however we are able to come together to celebrate,” said Mary Hale Tolar, director of the Staley School.

“The recipients of these awards have demonstrated time and again what it means to demonstrate leadership in service to their communities. In their student organizations, in the classroom, through service-learning and more, they go above and beyond.”

Zoom live screen shot


The following students were recognized:

The Candi Hironaka Outstanding LEAD 212 Class Leader award

  • Lorena Juanez, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Matt Plummer, Wamego, Kansas
  • Hannah Valentine, Lake Winnebago, Missouri
  • Emily Wollard, Overland Park, Kansas

The Outstanding Civic Engagement award

  • Francisco Cardoza, Kansas City, Kansas

The Nonprofit Leadership Outstanding Graduating Senior award

  • Katie Buhler, Pratt, Kansas

The Pat. J. Bosco Leadership Studies Outstanding Graduating Senior award

  • Abby Molzer, Lenexa, Kansas
  • Hannah Sutherland, Lenexa, Kansas
  • Chelsea Turner, Kansas City, Kansas

Sincere thanks go to these students and their nominators. They strive to carry the mission of the Staley School: Developing knowledgeable, ethical, caring, inclusive leaders for a diverse and changing world.

Learn more about the awards or to view a list of past recipients here.

You can view the entire event below or on Facebook.

Nominate Staley School faculty, staff for Rost Award

K-State students are invited to nominate a member of the Staley School faculty or staff for the Staley School’s 2020 Rost award.

The nomination for is just four short questions. Any nomination submitted will be presented to the faculty/staff nominated, so this is also a great opportunity to pass on a positive message of support regardless of the awarded recipient. Nominations are due by 5 p.m. April 29.

Established by the Staley School of Leadership Studies Ambassadors, the Rost award recognizes faculty/staff who exemplify the mission statement of the Staley School, which is to develop knowledgeable, ethical, caring, inclusive leaders for a diverse and changing world.

The winner of this award should not only demonstrate these characteristics in their own lives, but should also inspire others to become better leaders.

The Staley School Ambassadors will form a committee, review nominations and carefully select the 2020 recipient. The recipient will be notified in early May.

View a list of past recipients.

Greg Eiselein to share “What Matters to Me and Why”

Greg Eiselein, Donnelly Professor of English, University Distinguished Teaching Scholar and director of K-State First, will present as part of the What Matters to Me and Why lecture series Thursday, March 26. The presentation will take place in Town Hall, Leadership Studies Building, from noon to 1 p.m.

Greg Eiselein

This presentation is about the joys (and struggles, but mostly joys) of working with others. We know that learning is social and that social learning environments work better than isolated or individualistic ones. In what ways is the same true of work? If our best work is done collaboratively, how do we support and coordinate with each other, and just plain get along in the ways most likely to achieve collective goals?

One of the keys may be sharing what matters most to us and why, thinking through the principles that guide and motivate our work and writing out the unwritten rules of a #modeloffice.

A free box lunch will be provided starting at 11:45 a.m., and an RSVP is requested by March 24. Visit the website to read a full event description and sign up. If you are unable to attend, a Zoom link is available. See who’s going on Facebook.

This informal lunchtime series supports K-State’s Principles of Community by encouraging reflection on matters of personal values, beliefs, and motivations in order to better understand the lives and inspirations of those who serve and shape the University. This event is sponsored by the Staley School of Leadership Studies, and supported by an interdisciplinary, cross-campus planning team.

Advancing the Staley School mission through sabbatical leave

Among the 45 Kansas State University faculty members that will be granted a sabbatical leave during the 2020-2021 school year is Kerry Priest, associate professor in the Staley School of Leadership Studies.Kerry Priest

The purpose of a sabbatical leave is to provide faculty members with the opportunity for scholarly and professional enrichment. Sabbatical leaves allow faculty to pursue advanced study, conduct research studies, engage in scholarly and creative activities, or secure appropriate industrial or professional experience. Once faculty members return from their sabbaticals, they are expected to share the knowledge and experience they gained with their students, colleagues and the K-State community.

The objective of Priest’s one-semester sabbatical leave will be to focus attention and energy into the development of a book proposal on pedagogies of practice for collective leadership development.

In her own words, Priest said:

Leadership activity that makes progress on complex, adaptive challenges requires new learning, recognizing values and loyalties and constructing new ways of being. A primary assumption is that learning and development is not simply an individual exercise, but socially constructed through relationships and communities. While there is emerging literature in the areas of collective relational leadership which call for new forms of inquiry and practice, there are few tangible examples from which to train others.

As a scholar-educator, I am committed to bridging theory and practice. One way to do so is to develop concrete tools and techniques to improve research and teaching practices highlighting the interdependent connections between the self and the groups in making leadership happen.

The Staley School is proud of the recognition our faculty and staff receive for their continued efforts to enrich and improve the diverse and changing world around us through their research.

“This is well-deserved institutional recognition of Kerry’s current and future scholarly contributions and is an important career milestone,” said Mary Hale Tolar, director of the Staley School. “While we will miss her presence in the building next spring semester, she will be advancing scholarship important to the field and critical to our work here.”

Coffman Institute to provide leadership development for K-State professionals

Kansas State University will present the 2020 James R. Coffman Leadership Institute: Empowered Individuals, Enhanced Institutions. This two-and-a-half-day institute will take place Aug. 12-14 and offer faculty and unclassified staff a unique opportunity to refresh and enhance their leadership skills and knowledge. The Coffman Institute serves as a launching point for continuous leadership development, professional networking and empowerment of K-State professionals.

Purpose of the institute

The three primary objectives of this institute are:

  1. Provide opportunity for participants to refresh and develop their leadership skills in a safe yet challenging learning environment.
  2. Provide an opportunity for networking and interdisciplinary cooperation for faculty and staff.
  3. Infuse K-State with more empowered faculty and staff leaders.

Building relationships

An essential key for leadership success in any organization is the ability to build good relationships with members of the organization. Institute participants will have the opportunity to explore and initiate collaborative projects and discuss leadership issues. They also will have the chance to strengthen current relationships and to build new ones with other professionals at K-State.

Recognizing your leadership style

The James R. Coffman Leadership Institute is based on the philosophy that every individual can be a successful leader. This success depends on learning leadership skills as well as recognition of one’s leadership style. Further refining of one’s leadership style, understanding it’s associated strengths and challenges as well as its impact on decision-making, conflict resolution, and problem-solving preferences will be a major focus of the institute.

Institute format

The James R. Coffman Leadership Institute is a two-and-a-half-day experience with evening sessions. Learning activities are arranged to maximize participant learning and engage all learning styles. Topics may include inclusive leadership, conflict resolution, change management, leadership style assessment, shared leadership and team building. Formats: workshops, panel discussions, small and large group activities, small group discussions, multimedia presentations, case studies and self-assessments.

What to expect

Participants will have the opportunity to engage in a focused and in-depth adult learning experience aimed at leadership development. They will be offered knowledge and skill-based learning modules to engage them cognitively as well as behaviorally. Attendees also will have the opportunity to interact with other professionals who want to make a difference at K-State. Conference activities will take place at K-State’s Manhattan campus and in the local Manhattan community. As a feature of the retreat, participants will get to experience and interact with different parts of the campus and community.

More than 90 percent of past participants reported that workshops were extremely effective to effective.

“My biggest takeaway from the institute was not learning new leadership concepts or skills but rather an increased awareness about leading on purpose and with purpose.”

“The institute has equipped me with knowledge about my strengths, which will be helpful in collaborating with others on research projects and project proposal, and leading my research them. My goal is harnessing my strengths to improve my research program.”

“My expectations were pretty high, and you managed to surpass them.”

“Both the community building and leadership goals were definitely met.”

“Very effective … well organized, meaningful sessions and activities.”

How to apply

This year the Coffman Leadership Institute will accept nominations in a new format. Interested individuals may self-nominate or a nomination can be submitted by a dean, director, or department head. In the case of a self-nomination, the nominee’s dean, director or department head will be asked to confirm support of the nominee. All nominations can be completed via the 2020 James R. Coffman Leadership Institution nomination form.

The nomination deadline is Friday, March 13.

Before submitting a nomination, all applicants should be available to attend the institute in its entirety and be in good standing with his/her department. Please do not self-nominate or nominate individuals who have previously attended a James R. Coffman Leadership Institute.

For additional information, contact Trisha Gott in the Staley School of Leadership Studies at tcgott@k-state.edu or Shanna Legleiter with Human Capital Services at legleiters@k-state.edu.

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