Connson Chou Locke, PhD 08

Assistant Professor
London School of Economics & Political Science

After 16 years in the business world and a decade in Asia, Connson Chou Locke, PhD 08, is now at home on a new continent and in a new career at the renowned London School of Economics (LSE).


It's a world away from her previous work in Asia, where she held travel-intensive management consulting, development, and raining posts after earning an undergraduate degree in sociology from Harvard and working for Boston nonprofits.


"I discovered in Hong Kong that I loved teaching, but I was tired of teaching the same things," says Locke, who came to England in part to be near her British-born husband's family. "A friend who got into Berkeley's PhD program told me about it, and I realized it was possible. It was a midlife career change, but I loved teaching and wanted a more fulfilling, family-friendly job where I could learn."


And so in 2003, Locke enrolled at Haas with a desire to study employee voice. Her husband came with her, and she gave birth to two daughters during her five years in the PhD program. "I was basically either pregnant or breastfeeding the whole time I was a student!" she recalls. "It was really tough and not something I would recommend."


Locke's dissertation involved running four experiments to examine leaders' nonverbal behavior and its effects on upward communication.


"When I used to do leadership programs, we taught 'leadership presence,' the idea that when you become a leader you need a certain demeanor, and this is viewed very positively," says Locke, 44. "But there are unintended consequences: when leaders use the positive leadership demeanor, if they're trying to get information from subordinates, the subordinates don't speak up as much as they could. The more leaders use that demeanor, the less subordinates speak, and the less information they share—a problem for joint decisions."


At LSE, Locke's first task was to build the Organizational Behavior core course from scratch—the school's Master's in Management program only launched in 2008, the year she arrived. In that course and the others she now teaches, she stresses the importance of nonverbal flexibility: "Maybe the leadership demeanor is good when you're presenting, but when you're speaking to your employee, you need to be more casual. The key to good leadership is understanding the situation and adjusting."


Fascinated by the perception of leaders, Locke is keen to begin exploring women in leadership this summer. "The gender stereotype is that women are supposed to be communal—caring, friendly—rather than agentic—assertive or aggressive," says Locke. "Yet, leaders are supposed to be agentic. For women in leadership positions, this is a conflict."

Though still formulating the project's framework, Locke knows she'll be seeking a real-world application—"I'm not interested in research for its own sake"—and that she'll enjoy it. "I'm so happy and fulfilled now," she says. "My work has given me a new purpose in my life."

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