Leading and managing the workplace: The role of executive functions

Todd Chan, Iris Wang, Oscar Ybarra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Executive functions are the cognitive abilities that enable individuals to effectively manage their attention. The efficient management of attention facilitates performance when individuals must think and act quickly and adaptively, or when job demands are novel and time is constrained. In organizations, these executive functions may be especially relevant for how successful leaders and managers perform in their several roles and how they further organizational goals. Yet, organizational behavior research has largely neglected an executive functioning lens. The present work illustrates how the core facets of executive functions inhibition, working memory, and shifting have implications for leadership and management outcomes by influencing common leadership tasks: decision-making, planning and monitoring, problem solving, negotiating, and innovating. Our goal is to supplement prevailing explanations of these tasks (e.g., general intelligence and job knowledge) with this executive functioning lens. We provide strategies for organizations to assess and bolster these executive functions in their leaders and managers and urge future organizational research to consider the important role of executive functions involved in the selection, training, and management of leaders and managers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-164
Number of pages23
JournalAcademy of Management Perspectives
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management
  • Marketing


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