Triton 5: Laura McHale ’92

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Woman with blonde hair and a black blazer holds book.01. What do you do? I am a leadership psychologist based in Hong Kong. I specialize in helping executives and organizations with leadership development, leadership team effectiveness, creativity and innovation, diversity and inclusion, and organizational communication — as well as the application of neuroscience to all these areas. I’ve just published my first book — Neuroscience for Organizational Communication: A Guide for Communicators and Leaders, which is the first book to apply neuroscience to the practice of organizational communication.

02. Why do you do it? I became a leadership psychologist because I feel that work is often a painful and unsatisfying experience for many people, and it doesn’t have to be that way. I want to help make work awesome. I also believe that neuroscience is providing us profound insights into the brain and behavior, which has wide-ranging ramifications for what happens at work. I want to help translate some of those insights so that people in organizations can use and apply them.

03. What have you done? After graduation from Marshall College with a major in Communication, I joined the Peace Corps and worked as a volunteer in sub-Saharan Africa for a couple of years. After that, I went to New York to get my master’s degree in International Affairs at Columbia University. After Columbia, I began working in corporate communication, mainly for financial services companies in New York, Europe, and eventually Hong Kong, where I was transferred to in 2010. I did a lot of executive speechwriting and became interested in leadership, behavioral science, and psychology. I decided to go back to school and get a doctorate in my mid 40’s and transitioned to my new career in consulting psychology. I wrote my book because I know a lot of communications practitioners are interested in psychology and neuroscience but don’t know where to begin.

04. What did you learn here? UCSD is where my academic journey in communication began. As I was writing my book, it was fascinating how often I reprised concepts that I had first learned studying communication at UCSD—such as the Sapir-Worf hypothesis, de Saussure’s semiotics, and Piaget’s constructivist theories. I only wish I had saved all of my old papers! But my education at UCSD was deeper than just academics. I worked at the Food Co-op and became interested in environmental issues, social justice, and feminism. These laid the groundwork for my desire to become a change agent and to try to ensure that my work has both meaning and impact.

05. What have you learned since? I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that I love to learn! I am a huge believer in Bob Kegan’s constructive developmental theory, and I agree with him that the way adults construct their reality changes over time, as we become more aware of our own emotions and beliefs. Above all, I’ve learned that adults are capable of profound change, but that this change requires a willingness to see the patterns that constrain us and the courage to try new approaches.


To learn more or purchase Laura’s book, click here.