The purpose of academic research is ultimately to make an impact in a field of study and ultimately in people’s lives. To that end, Dr. Fred Luthans, University Professor and George Holmes Distinguished Professor of Management at UNL, was recently awarded the prestigious Emerald Management Citations of Excellence Awards for 2011. Luthans’ article, with former UNL Ph.D. student Carolyn Youssef, “Emerging positive organizational behavior” (Journal of Management
, 2007) was determined to be one of the top 50 articles with the most citations in all business journals since its publication date.
Luthans, who joined the UNL College of Business Administration in 1967 after receiving his Ph.D. from current Big Ten colleague University of Iowa and as a captain serving in the U.S. Army teaching leadership at West Point Academy, is one of the true pioneers in the field of organizational behavior. He authored the first mainline text, Organizational Behavior, in 1973. The text is now in its 12th
edition and has been used by students throughout the world.
The study of organizational behavior has had a significant impact in the field of business management but more than 25 years after publishing Organizational Behavior, Luthans had another inspiration that would transform the way people looked at behavior in the work place.
Luthans, who is also a senior scientist with Gallup, attended the first academic summit on positive psychology in 1999. While listening to professors talk about the subject of positivity in the field of psychology Luthans had a revelation.
“I felt this spark or epiphany of why don’t we take this positive psychology to the workplace because it hadn’t been done before. That’s not to say there weren’t positive things talked about before but not as a whole focus and a whole movement and a whole research stream.
“So I coined the term positive organizational behavior and that was based on my involvement from the beginning of the positive psychology movement.”
Luthans published his first article on positive organizational behavior in 2002 in the Academy of Management Executive,
which Luthans had been president of back in 1986. That seminal article was the first step in impacting professors of management on the subject of positive organizational behavior but even that was only the beginning.
“At that point I took it to the next level to ask, ‘How do we apply all of this?’ That’s when I coined the term psychological capital.”
Taking it to the next level involved the recognition of human potential and studying their psychological resources in the organization. Luthans was enthusiastic to apply the scientific method to find out how psychological capital might benefit the firm. His first article to use the term ‘psychological capital’ appeared in 2004.
“Everybody knows that positive is better than negative – the glass is half full rather than half empty – but what’s the science behind all this? And that’s what I’m providing because I only use the criteria of being based on theory and research, having valid measurements, being open to development and having performance impact.”
In promoting the science of positive organizational behavior and psychological capital, Luthans is not only having a huge impact in research but also in the classrooms at the UNL College of Business Administration.
“My students are on the ground floor. Most of this research that we do doesn’t show up in the text books for 10 years. They’re getting it first hand in my classes and they’re part of this whole movement of positive organizational behavior and psychological capital. Companies and countries throughout the world are looking for this -- something that they can tangibly get a hold of in terms of the science that demonstrates something that we intuitively all know which is positivity is better than negativity.”
Luthans is excited about the impact the research is already starting to have in the way both employees and companies can benefit from his studies.
“I can’t change an employee’s personality but I can change their level of psychological capital. We use the HERO acronym – H is the hope – E is the efficacy or confidence – the R is resiliency – and the O is optimism. That’s the psychological capital that we have clearly demonstrated through the scientific process. It has a significant impact on desired employee attitudes, behaviors and performance. Now it is being cited by organizational behavior scholars and practitioners.”
“Fred's work on positive organizational behavior has been a major contribution to the field of management,” said Dr. Donde Plowman, the James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean of the College of Business Administration. “To publish an article that is cited as many times as his 2007 article in Journal of Management
has been is an incredible achievement."
Luthans continues to make an impact in Nebraska and around the world both through his own endeavors and through his family. His two sons are currently in the management field. Kyle Luthans is the chair of the department at the University of Nebraska-Kearney and Brett Luthans, is a professor at Missouri Western State University. Both received their Ph.D.’s in management from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.