2022 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Stephen Courtright, University of Iowa Tippie College of Business

Stephen Courtright

University of Iowa Tippie College of Business

“Dr. Courtright’s positive impact to me personally and professionally has been invaluable. He taught me how to effectively manage myself, my network, and my team by playing to my strengths while learning from feedback. Thanks to Dr. Courtright, I now understand how to build valuable learning organizations and networks. Dr. Courtright is a positive force of nature.” – Justin Evans

Stephen Courtright, 39, is the Henry B. Tippie Professor of Management & Entrepreneurship and Director of Executive Education at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. He is also the founding Director of the Tippie Leadership Collaborative, which provides executive training and lifelong learning programs for organizations across Iowa and the United States.

He previously served as an assistant and associate professor of management at Texas A&M University where he was named a Presidential Impact Fellow. His research on organizational leadership, team effectiveness, employee engagement, and the work-nonwork interface has been published in top research journals and cited over 5,000 times. In addition to being a guest on NPR, Sirius XM Business Radio, and HuffPost Live, his research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and other media outlets. His research has received several different recognitions, including the Kanter International Award for Research Excellence in Work and Family and the Network of Leadership Scholars’ Alvah H. Chapman Jr. Outstanding Dissertation Award. He has delivered more than 50 presentations to academic audiences around the world, and he currently serves on the editorial boards of three major research journals: Academy of Management JournalAcademy of Management Review, and Journal of Applied Psychology.


At current institution since what year?  2020

Education: Ph.D. in Business Administration (2012), University of Iowa; B.S. in Accounting (2006), Brigham Young University-Idaho. 

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Management in Organizations (Organizational Behavior)


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when … I was in my last year as an undergraduate at BYU-Idaho and began working on a research project with one professor while helping teach a class for another professor. Prior to that, my plans had been to attend law school because I wanted to research and write. But I also felt a strong call to teach, and a career in law didn’t seem to offer that opportunity. So, when I figured out that being a business professor meant that I could do research AND teach, I was sold. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research is motivated by an observation that no one really intends to be a toxic leader, yet over half of employees say they trust strangers more than their own boss. How do we solve that problem? I think it begins by understanding what causes people to unintentionally become toxic leaders, which has led me to study various factors that explain why leaders behave the way they do and how companies can better support and develop leaders. But I have also been asked many times if poor leadership is also the result of bad hiring decisions. For example, maybe we look at the wrong characteristics when selecting leaders and, as a result, overlook people with real leadership potential. So, that is one area where my research is going, and my favorite study on that topic is a meta-analysis (i.e., quantitative summary) on what we call the “beauty bias,” or the tendency for organizations to select leaders who are physically attractive, even when their qualifications are equal to those who are not as physically attractive. Our major question is whether this is just a middle school phenomenon or whether it happens in organizations. If it does happen, why do we fall for it? It turns out that the beauty bias does indeed exist (quite robustly, in fact), and this is especially true when it comes to filling executive roles. We also find that the reason why the beauty bias exists is that people unconsciously associate physical attractiveness with greater intelligence and better people skills, even though previous studies are clear that attractiveness does not predict actual IQ or people skills. Finally, we find that men and women are equally susceptible victims and perpetrators of the beauty bias. 

It is interesting to me that as I’ve presented these findings to various executive and managerial audiences, they all nod their heads in agreement with the findings. Yet, the beauty bias is not really discussed in organizations, especially compared to other unconscious biases. I hope our study will change that.

If I weren’t a business school professor … I would figure out a way to become one! Seriously, I think this is the best job in the world. But a next-best alternative would be to work at a national park or historic site as a ranger and tour guide.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? When it comes to research, I think it’s the emphasis on seeing managers as holistic individuals who are impacted by things outside of work and, in turn, are impacting their employees’ nonwork lives. Because of that, I think of leadership not only as an organizational issue, but also a societal issue. When it comes teaching, I think it’s my ability to share research in a way that connects with non-research audiences and invites immediate application to the challenges (professional or personal) that they face. I also try to create a learning environment that, on one hand, feels rigorous and demanding while, on the other hand, very conversational, student-focused, and informal.  

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: Rejection is very common when it comes to publishing research, and it can sting a bit. In one of the many rejection letters I have received during my career, one reviewer wrote that my paper was a “frustrating and laborious read.” Ouch! So, I wish I had known just how much humility and resilience it takes to successfully move your ideas forward to publication. Thankfully, I can honestly say that I have not had a single published article that wasn’t made better by the review process.

Professor I most admire and why: There are so many people I could list here, but if I must mention only one, it would be Amy Colbert — my dissertation adviser and now faculty colleague at Iowa. She is the most well-rounded academic I know. As a scholar, she has done incredible work on leadership and interpersonal relationships in organizations, and she’s one of my favorite co-authors. She is also a master teacher, in the classroom and one on one. As an administrator, she is visionary, yet pragmatic; bold, yet diplomatic; driven by results, yet focused on people; and she effectively balances the needs of the institution with the needs of her people. She is one of the reasons I came back to Iowa, even after having a great experience at Texas A&M.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I enjoy seeing my students take evidence-based frameworks and use them to solve challenges that are keeping them up at night. The content in my class is applicable to everyday life, and I love hearing about the successes my students see in their work and nonwork lives because of applying the concepts and frameworks we discuss in class.

What is most challenging? There are so many different topics that I want to cover in my class, but it’s impossible to cover all of them if I want to create a highly interactive, application-focused learning experience. So, my biggest challenge is choosing which topics to cover and which principles and frameworks I will give the most attention to within each topic. 

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

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Transparent


What are your hobbies? I love traveling with my wife and children to new places and learning about their history. I also enjoy exploring the outdoors and watching college sports (especially our Iowa Hawkeyes). Finally, I find a lot of joy serving in my church.

How will you spend your summer? Making progress on my research and administrative work while also traveling with my family to Scotland, a couple of U.S. national parks, and my home state of Idaho. We also plan to have fun right here in Iowa with a few day trips to state parks and various small-town attractions. Add to that the chaos of shuttling four kids to various activities, and the time will fly for sure! 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: To discover new cultures and food: Europe (favorites are Italy and Greece). For a reprieve from the frigid Iowa winters: Florida. To enjoy cool mountain air and reconnect with family and friends: Idaho. 

Favorite book(s): I enjoy biographies of political and religious leaders in U.S. history (favorite authors are David McCollough, Doris Kearns-Goodwin, and Stephen Ambrose), as well as management books that make good research come to life (favorite authors are Adam Grant, Chip and Dan Heath, and Robert Sutton).

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Star Wars, especially the recent Mandalorian series. My family and I are the kind of people who wear Star Wars shirts and celebrate May the 4th as if it were a holiday. Because of that, there is probably a lot of nostalgia involved with liking Star Wars. I still get excited every time I hear the iconic theme music. 

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? This may sound old school, but I mostly listen to 80s & 90s country (especially George Strait and Garth Brooks) and 70s & 80s rock (especially Journey and Eagles). I’m pretty sure my music tastes are also influenced by nostalgia. For example, classic rock reminds me of fun trips with my family, while country music connects me with the small towns and wide-open spaces where I have lived most of my life and feel most comfortable.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would … be viewed by policy makers and the business community as more than just institutions that churn out graduates year by year (as fundamental as that is to our mission!). If I had my way, business schools would also be seen by these groups as partners in economic development and lifelong learning, and business school faculty would have greater representation in economic development groups, professional and trade associations, and government committees. Of course, this means that faculty need more support and better incentives — and universities need more infrastructure and resources — to make this happen. But, in short, the business school of the future would be more deeply connected with non-academic groups that wield heavy influence with policy makers and the business community.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at … prioritizing leadership development, even when times are lean. Most people report not receiving any leadership training prior to becoming managers. Meanwhile, study after study shows that people quit bosses not companies, and that employee engagement suffers because of toxic boss behavior. So, organizations can’t afford not to invest in leadership development. But unfortunately, leadership development is too often seen as a cost center, especially when companies face financial challenges.

I’m grateful for … a profession that I love and find extremely meaningful; friends that cheer me on, keep me humble, and inspire me to be a better person; faith that has sustained me through life’s challenges and has deepened over time; and a family that reminds me where lasting joy is found and what my work is really all about.


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