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Dr Brian Spisak

BA(Pitts) PhD(VUAmsterdam)brianspisak

Senior Lecturer
Room: Commerce 611
Tel: +64 3 479 8132
Fax: +64 3 479 8173
Email: brian.spisak@otago.ac.nz

Brian R. Spisak researches how and why leadership develops in large-scale social networks, blending social and organisational psychology with the study of biological and cultural evolution. He applies this perspective to issues relevant in business and management, including how an evolutionary perspective of leadership adds to our understanding of innovation, sustainability, and alignment of operational behavior with strategic goals. He is also the external engagement coordinator for the Department of Management and works with leaders on how they can apply this (and other) perspectives to make their organizations more effective, resilient, and adaptive.

He has already applied an evolutionary perspective to understand intergroup conflict for the United States Office of Naval Research and NATO, analysing ways to build co-operative ties between peacekeeping troops on the ground and the local population. He has also contributed to one of the first academic books on applying evolutionary psychology in the business sciences. His work is published in journals such as Academy of Management Review, Psychological Science, and The Leadership Quarterly. In addition, his academic contributions are featured in popular media outlets such as Harvard Business Review, Time Magazine, and the New Scientist.

Originally, from Western Pennsylvania, he studied for his PhD, first at the University of Kent, UK, then in the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology at the VU Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Management and Organization Studies at the VU Amsterdam before taking up his current role at Otago in 2017. Some of his previous work in Amsterdam focused on voting behaviour, decision-making biases, and “followership investment.” He showed, for instance, that individuals, when making leadership choices, tend to contingently match biological traits of leaders (such as perceptions of age and gender) with context-specific requirements of the situation (e.g., people are biased to vote for older presidential candidates in times of war). Prior to his academic experience, he worked for a number of years in both the private and public sectors in the United States. He enthusiastically incorporates his applied and academic experience into his teaching of Responsible Leadership, Managing for Performance, and Governance at the Otago Business School.

Teaching responsibilities

Brian’s teaching responsibilities include:

Research Interests

Brian’s research interests include:

  • Evolution and Human Behavior
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Social and Organizational Psychology
  • Leadership
  • Intergroup Dynamics
  • Innovation
  • Resource Sustainability
  • Voting Behavior

Current supervisions

PhD

With students from VU University Amsterdam

Anna Dekker – Work motivation in high risk environments. (Supervisors: Brian R. Spisak, Omar Solinger, Peer van der Helm, Paul Jansen)

Veronique van Miert – Effective team leadership in high risk environments. (Supervisors: Brian R. Spisak, Omar Solinger, Peer van der Helm, Paul Jansen)

Godelieve Hofstee – Facing the angry client: The distribution of working memory space between interpersonal emotion regulation and job task execution, and the role of executive control. (Supervisors: Brian R. Spisak, Annet de Lange, Paul Jansen)

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Publications

Grabo, A., Spisak, B., & van Vugt, M. (2017). Charisma as signal: An evolutionary perspective on charismatic leadership. Leadership Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2017.05.001

Spisak, B. R., O'Brien, M. J., Nicholson, N., & van Vugt, M. (2015). Niche construction and the evolution of leadership. Academy of Management Review, 40(2), 291-306. doi: 10.5465/amr.2013.0157

Dechesne, M., Spisak, B., Kopetz, C., Clark, B., Burcur-Marcu, H., & Mumm, R.-J. (2014). Measurable indicators of the populations’ attitude towards NATO. In G. Moore, H. Ahmad, L. Simm, R. Surdu & P. Kovacs (Eds.), Human aspects in NATO military operations. (pp. 161-176). Oradea, Romania: NATO HUMINT Centre of Excellence.

Spisak, B. R., Blaker, N. M., Lefevre, C. E., Moore, F. R., & Krebbers, K. F. B. (2014). A face for all seasons: Searching for context-specific leadership traits and discovering a general preference for perceived health. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 792. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00792

Spisak, B. R., Grabo, A. E., Arvey, R. D., & van Vugt, M. (2014). The age of exploration and exploitation: Younger-looking leaders endorsed for change and older-looking leaders endorsed for stability. Leadership Quarterly, 25(5), 805-816. doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2014.06.001

Chapter in Book - Research

Dechesne, M., Spisak, B., Kopetz, C., Clark, B., Burcur-Marcu, H., & Mumm, R.-J. (2014). Measurable indicators of the populations’ attitude towards NATO. In G. Moore, H. Ahmad, L. Simm, R. Surdu & P. Kovacs (Eds.), Human aspects in NATO military operations. (pp. 161-176). Oradea, Romania: NATO HUMINT Centre of Excellence.

Spisak, B. R., Nicholson, N., & van Vugt, M. (2011). Leadership in organizations: An evolutionary perspective. In G. Saad (Ed.), Evolutionary psychology in the business sciences. (pp. 165-190). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-92784-6

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Journal - Research Article

Grabo, A., Spisak, B., & van Vugt, M. (2017). Charisma as signal: An evolutionary perspective on charismatic leadership. Leadership Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2017.05.001

Spisak, B. R., O'Brien, M. J., Nicholson, N., & van Vugt, M. (2015). Niche construction and the evolution of leadership. Academy of Management Review, 40(2), 291-306. doi: 10.5465/amr.2013.0157

Spisak, B. R., Blaker, N. M., Lefevre, C. E., Moore, F. R., & Krebbers, K. F. B. (2014). A face for all seasons: Searching for context-specific leadership traits and discovering a general preference for perceived health. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 792. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00792

Spisak, B. R., Grabo, A. E., Arvey, R. D., & van Vugt, M. (2014). The age of exploration and exploitation: Younger-looking leaders endorsed for change and older-looking leaders endorsed for stability. Leadership Quarterly, 25(5), 805-816. doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2014.06.001

Spisak, B. R. (2012). The general age of leadership: Older presidential candidates are preferred during war. PLoS ONE, 7(5), e36945. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036945

Spisak, B. R., Homan, A. C., Grabo, A., & van Vugt, M. (2012). Facing the situation: Testing a biosocial contingency model of leadership in intergroup relations using masculine and feminine faces. Leadership Quarterly, 23(2), 273-280. doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2011.08.006

Spisak, B. R., Dekker, P. H., Krüger, M., & van Vugt, M. (2012). Warriors and peacekeepers: Testing a biosocial implicit leadership hypothesis of intergroup relations using masculine and feminine faces. PLoS ONE, 7(1), e30399. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030399

van Vugt, M., & Spisak, B. R. (2008). Sex differences in the emergence of leadership during competitions within and between groups. Psychological Science, 19(9), 854-858. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02168.x

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Conference Contribution - Published proceedings: Full paper

Sharpanskykh, A., & Spisak, B. R. (2011). An agent-based evolutionary model of leadership. Proceedings of the International Conference on Privacy, Security, Risk and Trust and International Conference on Social Computing (PASSAT/SocialCom). (pp. 848-855). IEEE. doi: 10.1109/PASSAT/SocialCom.2011.145

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Conference Contribution - Published proceedings: Abstract

Spisak, B. R. (2014). A face for all seasons: Searching for context-specific leadership traits and discovering a general preference for perceived health. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences (APLS). (pp. 14). Retrieved from http://www.aplsnet.org

Spisak, B. R. (2013). The age of exploration and exploitation: Younger leaders endorsed for change and older leaders endorsed for stability. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences (APLS). (pp. 25). Retrieved from http://www.aplsnet.org

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Awarded Doctoral Degree

Spisak, B. R. (2012). How to win elections: An evolved psychological model of context, facial cues, and message predicts leadership emergence (PhD). Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 117p. Retrieved from https://research.vu.nl/en/publications/how-to-win-elections-an-evolved-psychological-model-of-context-fa

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