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Why words matter

Business professor examining ‘performance outcomes’ of CEOs


By Jeff Green

Part of an ongoing series of Gazette stories celebrating researchers who received support as part of the federal government’s major investment in science and research on Aug. 29.

Federal funding is allowing a researcher in the Faculty of Business Administration to explore the power of words.

Dr. Erin Oldford, a white woman in her mid-30s, is seen wearing a white shirt and pink jacket. A wall design featuring blue, green and red colours is seen in the background.
Dr. Erin Oldford
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Erin Oldford, associate professor of finance and associate dean, undergraduate programs and accreditation, recently received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant valued at $57,054 for the project, Leadership Narratives in Systematic and Idiosyncratic Crises.

Dr. John Fiset from Saint Mary’s University is co-investigator.

Leadership skills

From the war in Ukraine to climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic, few organizations have not been affected by these large-scale crises.

Research indicates 80 per cent of global organizations have needed to mobilize their crisis management teams over the past two years.

“In the midst of growing instability and uncertainty, many seek reassurance, decisive action and strong communication skills from their leaders,” Dr. Oldford noted. “We plan to use textual analysis to examine a large sample of systematic and idiosyncratic leadership crisis responses.”

‘Performance outcomes’

In addition to the influence of corporate language, Dr. Oldford’s research interests include the economic effects of mergers and acquisitions, cross-borders transactions and corporate restructurings.

As part of this new study, Dr. Oldford and her team will construct a hand-collected database of Fortune 500 CEOs’ responses to major issues, as well as individual and organizational transgressions.

“CEO statements are widely read by a variety of stakeholders and are associated with many important organizational performance outcomes,” she explained. “Our findings will provide insights to a diverse group of stakeholders including organizational leadership, public relations, investor relations, employees, investors and stakeholders who are interested in how leaders shape crisis narratives.”

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