Kennesaw State researcher studying appeal of controversial leaders

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KENNESAW, Ga. | Oct 26, 2022 Why is Elon Musk so popular? That’s a question Kennesaw State University assistant professor of marketing Prachi Gala hopes to have answered next summer by the conclusion of her visiting research fellowship with the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria […]


KENNESAW, Ga. |
Oct 26, 2022

Why is Elon Musk so popular?

That’s a question Kennesaw State University assistant professor of marketing Prachi Gala hopes to have answered next summer by the conclusion of her visiting research fellowship with the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. 

Prachi Gala

Gala, who teaches in the Michael J. Coles College of Business, was selected for the fellowship following a highly competitive process. She will
present at least one seminar, develop one joint research project with a member of
Gordon Institute faculty, and spend two weeks in residence in Johannesburg, where
the institute is located.

Her research will examine why people are drawn to “dark triad personalities,” which contain a blend of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. 

“We see a lot of dark triad leaders out there, but unfortunately or fortunately, they are very well liked in spite of their personality,” Gala said. “One big example can potentially be Elon Musk. He’s on a rampage; he tweets what he wants; he wants attention. But despite that, he has a big fan following and is beloved.”

Musk is often described in news reports as the world’s richest person, famous for leading the electric automaker Tesla, private satellite and space transport company SpaceX and his current bid to buy the social media platform Twitter.

Gala’s research proposal suggests that dark triad leaders are liked because of the language they use, which is often disparaging.

“There are some leaders who are very blunt and don’t mind using derogatory words, and that’s what actually gives them the favor and puts them in a positive light,” Gala said.

Gala’s research team will collect survey data showing different CEO dialogues — blunt and polite — then ask which dialogue people prefer. 

They will also collect secondary information through Twitter and Instagram to see
how many followers those leaders have.

Gala also examined CEO behavior earlier this year in an article published in the European
Journal of Marketing, which found that CEOs who have high degrees of integrity tend
to negatively influence each of the three core dimensions of entrepreneurial orientation:
innovation, being proactive and risk-taking.

Gala’s interest in Africa was spawned earlier this year when she participated in the Jewish National Fund USA’s 2022 Summer Faculty Fellowship Program in Israel, which afforded her the opportunity to network with Israeli professors from across the country.

One of her most meaningful interactions, however, involved a group of Ethiopian students
who traveled to Israel to learn how to develop agriculture in the desert.

“That inspired me to study more about Africa,” Gala said. “That really inspired me to learn about how these students think. There isn’t enough help, so they want to help themselves by learning from external cultures and help their communities from that.”

That led Gala to sift through fellowship opportunities in Africa, which ultimately
led her to the University of Pretoria, where she will conduct research with GIBS professor
Gavin Price.

These global interactions are important to Gala, who teaches an international marketing
course in the Coles College of Business.

“Relationship building is always a precious resource,” Gala said. “That is my responsibility, and I want to develop relationships that help Kennesaw State University as well as their university, so that we can have student exchanges or something along those lines where we can expand our relationship.”

– David Roberts

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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