Insights at UBC Sauder

Meet UBC Sauder’s new faculty – Jonathan Evans

Jonathan Evans
Posted 2020-10-20

At UBC Sauder, faculty members are more than just ‘professors.’ They conduct impactful research that is changing how society views the world while also inspiring students to pursue their academic passions and become the thoughtful, values-driven leaders the business world needs. This year, UBC Sauder welcomes seven new full-time lecturers, tenured and tenure-track faculty to the school. In the first of this series, we introduce you to Jonathan (Jon) Evans, Assistant Professor, Organizational Behaviour & Human Resources Division, UBC Sauder School of Business.

What brought you to UBC Sauder?
UBC Sauder is almost a dream location for me to teach and do research: great students and great colleagues. The students come from such varied backgrounds and experiences, which provides a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other and discover new perspectives. I am excited about the opportunity to teach here at UBC. It is also a great pleasure to join the faculty. I came last Fall to present some of my research and interact with the faculty and that was the most fun I have had discussing my work with others. The conversation was both supportive and challenging. It was energizing to interact with the professors.

What are your areas of research and how did you get into this field?
Broadly speaking my area of research is organizational behavior – understanding how individuals behave within organizations and what influences that behavior. Prior to starting my doctoral studies, I had careers as a military officer and project manager in the oil and gas industry. Both of these careers were rewarding, but I noticed some clear patterns in the types of work activities that I felt the most passion about. One of these was my enjoyment of teaching. I love seeing others experiencing that moment of inspiration when they are introduced to a new and important idea. The other clear pattern is that despite my background in engineering, I was always most interested in understanding people and what influences their behavior. It is difficult to influence individuals to behave in a certain way, and I am constantly fascinated by insights into this process.

What fuels your research – what prompted you to research this area?
My specific area of research is understanding leadership – what it takes to be seen as a leader and what it takes to be effective as a leader. In both of my previous careers, it was common for me to be given leadership assignments, which I always found quite challenging. Specifically, it was always a challenge to step into a leadership role with the assignment to lead a group of individuals that I have never met before. What can I do to be seen as a leader worth following? How can I influence team members to be committed to the task, or improve their performance, or perform their tasks in a certain way? It is difficult to understand the nuances of the answers to these questions, and that is what my research is about. What I particularly love about this area of research is how broadly it applies to experiences in my life, beyond my experiences at work.

What inspires you to teach?
I am inspired by the classroom experience. When students are engaged in understanding the unique aspects of a given topic, see connections between ideas, and start to challenge conventional thinking, then I am energized. My most enjoyable experiences during my undergraduate degree or my MBA centered around interactive conversations in the classroom. These experiences helped me learn how to think more critically about ideas and be more inquisitive about things I do not yet understand. When I look back on what I gained during the pursuit of those degrees, it is less about the facts and details of the subject and more about the skillset of critical thinking and curiosity. I am inspired by the challenge of providing that benefit to my students.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered through your research?
The most interesting thing I’ve discovered was inspired by a conversation I had with an oil and gas industry executive I met during my MBA studies. We were talking about her leadership roles and the things that she did to be seen as an effective leader by others. It surprised me when she told me that she often refrained from being funny. A lot of research has demonstrated the benefits of humour, so I asked her why she is careful about being funny as a leader. She explained how being a female executive is particularly challenging because of the potential for others to not take her seriously. My colleagues and I decided to investigate the possibility that the effect of using humour as a leader depended on gender. We found that humour can be beneficial for men in a workplace presentation, but that same humour in the same presentation can be harmful for women. While this is certainly not an encouraging discovery, it is important to understand this bias in how we react to the humour of others. The hope is that if we can understand how and when certain groups of individuals are likely to face discrimination, then we can interrupt that process and create a better workplace environment.

What do you believe is the future of your industry?
When thinking about leadership, I believe that the future is more focused on leaders who can unlock the great ideas and potential contributions of the individuals they lead, rather than on being the source of discovery and innovation. It can be tempting to look towards the examples of prominent leaders who seem to have a clear vision of the path forward and expect that being an effective leader requires that we are just as visionary. However, innovative ideas and creative solutions often result from seeing a new combination or breaking from the limitations of conventional thinking. Leaders who can create a culture and atmosphere where individuals are free to express unique ideas and different perspectives might have a real advantage in finding that new combination or innovation.

What are you most looking forward to in Vancouver?
Outside of work, I love engaging in outdoor activities. My wife and kids love to joke about my unhealthy obsession with mountain biking. I expect that the great trails in the Vancouver area are only going to intensify that obsession.