2022 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Christopher Myers, Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School

Christopher Myers

Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School

“Chris Myers has made a remarkable impact on students at the Carey Business School. Early in his career, Chris helped to found the school’s flagship Leadership Development Expedition (LDE) program—an experience that left an indelible mark on my own, and others, identity as a leader. He has profoundly influenced the trajectory of many program alumni. Outside the classroom, Chris does meaningful and impactful work as a researcher. His latest research in ASQ is a wonderful example of what rigorous, meaningful qualitative work should look like. Finally, I am deeply grateful for Chris’s mentorship. It is because of Chris that I find myself pursuing an academic career of my own at Harvard Business School. Without his inspiration and unwavering support, I would not be here today.” – Derrick Bransby

Christopher Myers, 34, is Associate Professor of Management and Organization at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School. He is the founding faculty director of the Center for Innovative Leadership, overseeing efforts to advance research and teaching regarding leadership in modern organizations. He holds a joint appointment in Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

His research and teaching focus on individual learning and leadership development in knowledge-intensive work, and particularly on vicarious learning in healthcare organizations. This research has been published in top management and medical journals and has received various awards/distinctions, including the No. 1 most-read Academy of Management Discoveries article of 2021. Myers has been recognized with scholarly awards from national and international academic organizations and has also been featured in a variety of popular media outlets.

More recently, he has worked to apply his research to help guide COVID-19 responses in healthcare.

After starting his career at the Harvard Business School, he joined Johns Hopkins in 2016 and has taught students in Carey’s MBA, MS, and Executive Education programs. “My teaching spans core leadership and management courses, as well as a unique Leadership Development Expedition course, where students develop their leadership through a 9-day sea kayaking or mountain trekking challenge,” he tells Poets&Quants.

BACKGROUND

At current institution since what year? 2016

Education: 

  • Ph.D. in Business Administration (Management & Organizations), University of Michigan Ross School of Business
  • BS in Business Administration (with a second major in Asian Studies), University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

List of MBA courses you currently teach: 

  • Leadership Development Expedition (Full- and part-time MBA elective)
  • Behavioral Science: Leadership & Organizational Behavior (Full-time MBA core course)

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… As a business undergraduate at UNC, I was extremely lucky to end up in my required Organizational Behavior course with Professor Adam Grant. At the time, I was working for UNC’s outdoor education program, leading groups on backpacking, rock climbing, or sea kayaking trips. Though I loved the outdoor adventure element of that work, I was truly excited by the group dynamics and the group’s (in)ability to come together and solve challenges. Adam’s course introduced me to the field of OB and the notion that one could study these group dynamics as a career, and his highly engaging style gave me a passion for becoming an OB professor. After gaining some research experience working with Adam and Francesca Gino, I was hooked and never looked back. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? The main focus of my research for the past few years has been on understanding the ways people learn vicariously from others’ experiences at work, particularly in the kinds of distributed, dynamic work settings that are common in modern organizations. In these environments, learning from others is essential but also increasingly difficult to accomplish, since you can’t just “watch and learn” or imitate what others are doing (the basis of much of the existing research on this form of learning). I am particularly interested in exploring these processes in healthcare organizations, as these are settings where vicarious learning has significant benefits – and where repeating others’ mistakes or re-inventing the wheel have severe costs. 

If I weren’t a business school professor… Before deciding to go to graduate school and become a professor, my plan was to study accounting and become a forensic accountant (another profession focused on using data and analysis to solve puzzles). I also had (and continue to have) delusions of becoming a stand-up comedian. I am fascinated by comedians and love observational stand-up in particular, as I think it shares a lot with great social science research – it reveals something about our lives that we believe to be true, but haven’t considered carefully enough to see from an alternate perspective. Though based on how my jokes go over in class, my students would probably say it is a good thing the professor option worked out for me!

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? One of the courses I teach (with my colleague Mike Doyle) is the Leadership Development Expedition, where we teach leadership development over the course of 9 days spent backpacking in Norway or sea kayaking in Belize. So what probably stands out most is the weird ways I end up teaching – not many business professors find themselves using tape and the back of a foam sleeping mat as a crude “slide” to create a figure and teach a leadership theory! But I love these moments of impromptu teaching: there is nothing like pulling off the side of the trail in the middle of a team’s struggle and introducing a concept that could help – the connection of theory to practice is truly immediate. 

Even in my “regular” MBA teaching, I try to not take myself too seriously and invite students to do the same. I find that a more casual atmosphere allows students to put themselves out there, take a risk, or articulate a view on a case they otherwise might not have, which creates an environment where we can all find the boundaries of our understanding and learn from each other.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Exhilarating 

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: I think the thing about being a professor that I was (pleasantly) surprised to find is how many different avenues one can explore to have an impact in addition to research and teaching. I think doctoral training prepares us for the impact we can have by publishing our own high-quality articles and engaging students directly in the classroom. But I have found that some of my most meaningful experiences have arisen from structures and opportunities for magnifying the impact of others’ work. For instance, I have found reviewing (both formal journal reviewing and informal reviews or writing group feedback) to be a significant source of meaning in my work and find a lot of joy in supporting and playing a small role in guiding others’ work to publication. Similarly, launching a new research center has provided me with a mechanism to support and highlight excellent work others are doing and help bring these insights more directly to practicing leaders.

Professor I most admire and why: There are far too many professors I admire to list them all here, but one who stands out is Kathleen Sutcliffe. Her work has not only advanced management and organization theory, but she has also been a path-breaker in bringing her research to the world of healthcare scholarship (as well as to other industries) to create truly interdisciplinary insights that advance knowledge. Her ability to thoughtfully engage researchers from a variety of disciplines, as well as practicing leaders and decision-makers, combined with her continued support and commitment to developing junior scholars (myself included) provides a model that I can only aspire to emulate in my own career.   

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I genuinely enjoy learning about my students’ past experiences and seeing how those experiences shape their approach to leadership and management. I love the “aha” moment that comes when a concept, framework, or comment in class helps someone make better sense of their own experience and re-imagine how they would deal with that situation in the future. 

What is most challenging? It can be challenging to help students navigate the ambiguity and uncertainty of leadership and their future career. Many have advanced in their career by being technical experts with the right answers, and so are uncomfortable when there isn’t a clear solution, but leading organizations is seldom simple or cut-and-dry. Helping them embrace the idea of “it depends” and build a flexible approach to leadership is a challenging (but motivating!) goal. 

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Purposeful

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Thoughtless

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… having high expectations, but hopefully fair.

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? Most of my time outside of work is spent with my family, enjoying time outdoors, traveling, or just pushing our small kids on the swing in the backyard.

How will you spend your summer? I am excited to return (COVID-depending) to teaching our Leadership Development Expedition course in Norway this summer, before hopefully spending time with my family for our first full-family gathering in years.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Anywhere with good scenery and great food. 

Favorite book(s): In recent years, my reading list has been dictated by our kids more than me, which can be a bit repetitive but very fun. I enjoy seeing their excitement for reading and learning. 

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I am firmly on the Ted Lasso bandwagon. In addition to being a jolt of kindness in a difficult time, the show presents a range of powerful leadership lessons.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I am a big fan of the Avett Brothers (perhaps because of my North Carolinian roots), whose lyrics and compositions I find to be deeply thoughtful and resonant. That said, in the classroom, I often play the Beatles, as you can find a song in their catalog that connects to just about any management topic and sets a good mood for the class.

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… A firmer connection to other professions and focus on organizational purpose. The skills learned in business school are, in many ways, means to some other end – whether that be managing a unit, launching a product, leading a healthcare organization, or guiding a public institution. But at times we focus too much on the “means” and lose sight of the “ends.” Connecting to other disciplines (e.g., through joint degrees) and attending to purpose can help remind students what they are learning these skills in service of, and help avoid the trap of thinking of “business” as its own end (which seems to me to be a path that leads to some of the destructive or unethical behavior stereotypically ascribed to MBAs).

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Though it may sound cliché, I think companies need to do a better job of investing in people and their development. I have always hated the oxymoron of “human resources” as it invites companies to think of people as fixed assets that should be maximized. The pandemic has been a reminder that we must take seriously the “human” part: that individuals in organizations are capable of evolving, developing, and innovating in amazing ways, but only when given the resources, responsibility, and respect needed to thrive.

I’m grateful for…The many opportunities, lucky breaks, twists of fate, and support from so many people (truly SO many, no doubt more than I even know) have allowed me to pursue what I think is one of the best jobs in the world. 

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE 2022 ROSTER OF THE WORD’S BEST 40-UNDER-40 MBA PROFESSORS

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