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Meet the editor of... Leadership & Organization Development Journal

An interview with: Marie McHugh

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Image: Professor Marie McHughProfessor Marie McHugh is professor of Organizational Behaviour and head of the School of Business Organization and Management at the University of Ulster. She took over the editorship of the journal in September 2003, and is currently on the editorial boards of a number of other management journals. Marie's research interests encompass individual and organizational wellbeing and she has researched extensively in those areas in the UK and Scandinavia, while also consulting all over Europe for both the public and private sector.

Interest in wellbeing is also key to Marie's management style as an editor, and drives her attitude to her authors: she tries to help authors as much as possible through constructive feedback, advice on turnaround time in order to meet publishing deadlines and get out publications, and informal comments to those whose first language is not English. As a head of department, she works with her own probationary lecturers to ensure that they develop their own research agendas and have papers in place to achieve their publication targets. 

The Leadership & Organization Development Journal (LODJ) covers topics – leadership studies – currently enjoying a boom in interest at the current time. This is indicated by its average monthly download figure of 14,956, which makes it Emerald's fourth ranked journal in terms of usage. Now in its 26th year, it is one of the top journals in the field of human resources and organizational behaviour. It differs from the Journal of Organization and Change Management in that the latter is more specifically about organizational change.

Editorial philosophy

How do the themes of leadership and organizational behaviour/development link – should articles cover both issues?

It very much depends on the nature of the article. Looking at recent articles, some have been about leadership and some about organizational change, whereas others look at the role of leadership in organizational change and development. Relevance to one or other of those themes (which are very much linked – projects have to be led, and successful outcomes have often had strong leadership) is the first thing I look for.

LODJ is unambiguously about leadership and organizational change. In a recent interview for Emerald Management Xtra, Professor Andrew Pettigrew, Dean of Bath School of Management, said that leadership, change and performance were the jugular issues for contemporary management, but that historically there has not been much cross fertilization of the three literatures. Do you agree with this and does LODJ aim to plug this gap?

This is fair comment, and LODJ aims to plug the gap by bringing together the two literatures and by publishing articles about organizational change and leadership. It is becoming more common to link the two topics because the issues are inextricably linked: change needs good direction, so there needs to be someone with a clear vision. 

But isn't the key issue that the two literatures, the theoretical foundations, have not talked previously?

There has been a shift over the past few years in management research towards multidisciplinary work. This is also reflected in, for example, policies of research funding bodies which seem to encourage and welcome proposals which are multidisciplinary and are rooted in the relevant literatures. 

Would you say that your approach has become more scholarly in recent months as compared with say two years ago? What was behind this shift in emphasis and do you still encourage the theory into practice approach as well?

When I took over the journal I talked with Emerald about my objectives and found that theirs were very similar to my own. We want to increase the journal's prestige in academic circles, and our aim is to become ISI [Thomson Scientific] cited, which means amongst other things, becoming more scholarly. However, it's a balancing act as LODJ is known for its applied focus. How do we achieve a good balance? We need papers to be well rooted in the literature but also to spell out the practical implications. It's theory into practice, but the practice might have a sound theoretical foundation.

Was this always the journal's philosophy?

I don't think that it is such a good thing to draw direct comparisons with the past – I see the change as an evolutionary process; it is a long-term project which is happening progressively. The previous editors did very good work in this area and did much to develop and enhance the journal. The shift in emphasis towards a more theoretical basis has been gradual, and I am trying to develop it a step further. In this we are partly driven by ISI listing, as in order to obtain this we have to be concerned with academic quality.

The drive for quality has been an incremental process. The previous editors took the journal to great heights. The increase in quality has been gradual and we'll see it increase in the following months.

A feature of some top MBA courses is the emphasis placed on leadership development. Could your journal be used in the classroom to facilitate this sort of training?

Absolutely! Here at Ulster a core module on our MBA programme is leadership and change. Although it is said that on MBA programmes, 50 per cent of the learning takes place through peer interaction, you must base the peer interaction on something. An article from LODJ for example, can be used as a teaching tool to facilitate learning. For example a discussion on a particular type of leadership could cite as its essential reading an article which dealt with that topic and could form the basis of case analysis or class debate.  

Your editorial board is evenly balanced between academics from North America and from the UK, and many of your authors are US academics. Would you say you were equally well known in North America as in Europe? How do you ensure penetration (I am thinking of both authorship and readership) outside these areas?

There is another journal on leadership which is published in the USA and which is composed of contributions that emanate mostly from the USA However, LODJ has many contributions from the USA, and indeed many from Australia, the Far East and mainland China. These are all areas where we want to increase our reputation. It is part of our overall aim for the journal that it should have a higher profile internationally. The Editorial Board is already very international and we want to enhance that by further increasing its composition. Another aim is to establish an editorial review panel – getting people to review papers can be a real hassle.

In an article "Transformational leadership: an examination of cross-national differences and similarities", Vol. 24 No. 1, the authors contrast leadership with management: "First, the concept of leadership is often confused with the concept of management so a distinction is necessary. Zaleznik (1977, p. 71) views the influence of leaders as "altering moods, evoking images and expectations, and in establishing specific desires and objectives". In comparison, managers are less omnipotent types (Alvesson, 1995). Nicholls (1987, p. 21) describes the difference as follows:

"Management can get things done through others by the traditional activities of planning, organizing, monitoring and controlling – without worrying too much what goes on inside people's heads. Leadership, by contrast, is vitally concerned with what people are thinking and feeling and how they are to be linked to the environment, to the entity and to the job".

Here we have a definition of leadership as being about feelings and emotions, in other words getting inside a person's head, as opposed to management, which is about getting things done, and is not specifically concerned with feelings. Would you agree with this?

Yes, I would agree with this definition but I wouldn't want to limit articles to those that took a similar view – that would be too restrictive and prescriptive.

Does this emotion-linked aspect of leadership, the dealing with the inside of people's heads, mean that you are bound to favour qualitative approaches?

I think that you are right in saying that the "getting into people's heads" aspect does naturally lead to a more qualitative approach. However, there are other aspects of leadership, change and development that would lead to a more quantitative approach. It would really depend on the nature of the article.

Journal objectives

What are the main factors, the key drivers if you like, behind your decision to accept an article or send it for review?

As I've already said, I look for relevance to the issues of leadership and organizational change and development. So, the first driver is relevance to our editorial aims and objectives. I also scan it for quality. Sometimes I can tell from the first paragraph that it's not for us – perhaps the article just expresses the personal opinions of the author, or maybe it is something on IT with a very small link to leadership. In those cases I would reject and write to the author explaining my reasons. So it's really about perception of relevance to the journal and quality.

The journal home page states that "Articles based on experiences and evidence – rather than just philosophical speculation – will receive particular encouragement". Would you publish an article which was based purely on the author's experience and was without empirical evidence? 

The key factor here is that the article should have a good base in the literature.

What about an interesting case study which could throw light on leadership or change issues, but which did not include empirical evidence?

I would consider a case study if it was rooted in a framework which was drawn from the literature. For example, if it concerned a change situation it would need to be linked to change models. It would not necessarily contain empirical research, although it would need a section documenting in a systematic way, the process of change programme, how it was managed, and the sequence of events, and there would also need to be a critique and some reflection. In other words it would need to take an analytical approach and answer the "why" question.

You say that you do not welcome articles which are purely theoretical ("just philosophical speculation") – but many such articles build a hypothesis based on the literature...

This sort of conceptual article which links into theory development would be welcome, but I would encourage the testing of the concept in order to provide some evidence.

The Journal of Organizational Change Management which treats a related topic also has a very definite methodological stance, preferring qualitative approaches. Does LODJ's approach differ and, if so, how?

The Journal of Organizational Change Management has stated its preference and given a rationale for it. As far as LODJ is concerned, there is a place for both qualitative and quantitative approaches, choice of which would depend on the nature of the subject. Our concern here is with quality as demonstrated by the quality of the research. Here we are influenced by practical and business considerations: we want to obtain a place in the ISI rankings and to that end we have to be concerned with prestige. However, business and academic interests are not mutually exclusive here – it is in our interest and that of our authors to be concerned above all with quality.

Leadership studies is a very multidisciplinary area. From what disciplines do your authors come?

From all sorts of disciplines – sociology, psychology, organizational theory and general management are the big hitters, but we also have people researching in the health services (reflecting the changes taking place in that area), as well as accountancy (there will be two related articles by an accountancy researcher looking at topics related to the journal in 2005 issues 1 and 3), and IT. There are also some political scientists, and some people from cultural studies and anthropology.

Quality in academic journal publishing is now seen by many academics as being ISI listed. You have already said that ISI listing is important – how would you go about achieving it?

Emerald works very closely with editors here; they have a lot of experience with other journals, for example the Journal of Management Development has just gone through the process. One very important factor which I've already mentioned is the expansion of the editorial board and its composition [the "international diversity" of a journal's authors and editors is one of the ISI selection criteria]. I would look to get not only people from different areas, but also someone who had been associated with the ISI citation process for another journal – the object of the editorial board is to help with the journal's business development as well as its content, and ISI listing is one of our main goals.

Publishing issues

How many submissions do you get a year, what percentage of submissions do you reject outright, what percentage go to reviewers, and what percentage end up being published?

In 2003, I processed 56 papers, of which 35 per cent were rejected outright, and 65 per cent accepted subject to peer review and revision. In 2004 I processed 90 papers, of which 35 per cent were rejected outright, 20 per cent went to review but were not published (due to the author having not done the revisions or not having done them to a sufficiently high standard), so we ended up publishing 45 per cent of these articles.

Assuming that an article is in the latter category, how long does it take, on average, between submitting a manuscript and publication?

It's really as long as a piece of string, and heavily dependent on the review process. If we get willing reviewers, they can return the paper in six to eight weeks; if the required changes are fairly small, the author can then turn that round in four weeks. Then it has to go through the publishing process – which can take four to six months. If reviewers are slow however, and more revisions are required, the whole process can take 18 months to 2 years.

The lead time between acceptance and publishing is now getting longer and I'm now accepting papers for the end of the year. In some ways I'm quite happy with this. This is perhaps an indication of the increasing popularity of LODJ and a perception of enhanced quality. However, I am conscious of the fact that authors may have a different agenda from mine, which is to have enough quality papers: they will have their own publication targets from their deans and probationary lecturers in particular often need to have a set number of refereed papers in order to get their probationary status confirmed. I try and help authors by saying to reviewers, if you can't do the review in the time scale, please let me know, and when I write to author I try and gauge the extent of the revisions and give them a (negotiable) return date. (When I have new staff, I always try and work with them on developing research streams and generally making sure that the articles are in place.) 

I understand that one of the changes you made as editor was to instigate a more rigorous peer review system. Can you describe this and suggest how authors can make best use of the system?

I haven't changed the mechanics – papers have always been double blind peer reviewed with reviewers indicating suitability. However, I will try and speed up the review process by chasing up reviewers, and when I contact authors I will expand on their feedback. One of the hassles has been getting people to review papers, so I would like to have an editorial review panel, which would help make the process of finding reviewers easier and also ensure that we had people with a working knowledge of the journal.

If you printed the list of reviewers in the journal, wouldn't this affect the anonymity of the process?

The Journal of Management Development prints names of the review panel and the process is still anonymous because the reviewers won't know whose the paper is and the author won't know whom from the panel has been selected.

Do you have authors who have problems with English, and how do you overcome this?

I would suggest to the author to get a fluent English reader to go through the article with them and establish exactly what they were trying to say. I'd be quite happy to have an initial look at an article but the author would need to understand that the English would need to be in reasonable order before I would do this. 

Looking through recent articles, I note that authors seem to use a lot of devices to break up the text, such as bullet points, shortish paragraphs, and plenty of headings – all of which encourage readability. Is this something you actively encourage?

I see these as tools and techniques to enhance readability. Some people are afraid that they are "not academic", but being "academic" is about the rigour of the research and the thoroughness of the literature review; you can have these things but still be readable.

And finally...

I understand that you are also a head of department in addition to being a journal editor. Many academics have to take on management responsibilities in order to get promoted – how can they combine the demands of management with those of research, as both are very time-consuming?

When people take on management, for the majority, research has to take second place. In my view, it's advisable to first establish yourself as a researcher. I was promoted to a chair before being appointed as head of school, so much of the groundwork for becoming a professor had already been laid. Now for academics with all the changes in [UK] higher education the job of head of department is very much about management – the budget, meeting targets, etc. So my advice would be that when you develop your career at the start, you should use this period as an opportunity to develop a research profile. Very often this is done through joint work with more experienced colleagues and/or with a PhD supervisor. Initially published work tends to be joint. As the individual develops he/she is often in a position to move to single authorship.   With experience (and hopefully promotion) the person finds themselves in a situation where they act to facilitate the development of others, and so published work very often reverts back to being joint work with colleagues. Additionally, at this point it may be the case that the person becomes involved in interdisciplinary work and becomes part of a research team which can lead to joint publications. As part of the team, they may not take the lead but can support the article writing process. If you become a head of department, it has been my experience that the demands of the job are such that your own research has to take second place. That said, you can influence research through your people development work and also through research teams of which you are part.

Do you think that women face particular difficulties?

Women in most jobs have a lot of competing pressures, but in academic life you have the great advantage of flexibility which means that you have a greater degree of control over your life than in many other jobs and you don't need to work in a specific place or at a specific time – you can work at home if you prefer.

Publisher's note

Professor Marie McHugh was interviewed in January 2005.

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