Who Becomes a Leader? (It Could Be You): Larry Singell at TEDxBloomington

Who Becomes a Leader? (It Could Be You): Larry Singell at TEDxBloomington



good morning so today what I'm here to talk to about is who becomes a leader now this research began a long time ago in a galaxy far away when I was six at my first single family reunion see my father came from a large family of nine brothers and sisters all who were fruitful and multiplied such that we could have 11 on an 11 football game with subs and we did and the education of my family members varied quite dramatically all the way from my grandfather who failed to complete junior high school to my father who had a PhD in economics and upon reflection this was really the beginning of my interest in economics my interest in leadership and even my preparation for becoming the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for this sparked my fascination what with economists refer to as human capital the investments that people make in education throughout their life that makes them more productive what I learned from watching this large group of human beings all of roughly equal ability was two things first you are what you know your universe and the size of it is defined by your education this has profound effects on what your opportunities and choices are and that's the second thing and this effect is magnified for people who are positions of leadership because your choices and opportunities affect those of others and my research in the research of others have confirmed this finding leaders are made not born preparation for leadership occurs throughout a person's life and career John Wooden one of Indiana's most famous native sons actually began his career as a teacher and he admits to becoming increasingly frustrated by the fact that the parents would come to him and say little Johnny I assure you as an age student when in fact he knew that Johnny was a B student if he worked hard and so he thought about what was it that constituted success and how did one achieve it and he came up with the following notion success is the peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did the best to become the best you are capable of becoming our John Wooden success was not about outcomes it was about productive effort this was the beginning of his famous coaching philosophy the pyramid of success John Wooden was a successful leader because he lived by the philosophy never stopped seeking to improve to a commitment to learn now my referencing to of John Wooden is not random I love basketball and it probably explains how he ended up at Indiana and and it most definitely explains how I came to study leadership you see I went to graduate school in Southern California in 1980s this was the time of Showtime with the Lakers led by Magic Johnson and tenacious defense and precision offense run by the Celtics and Larry Bird Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were great leaders because not only were there great individual players but they made their teammates better how do they do this they did this by knowing skills of their teammates and getting them the ball in a place where they could be successful good leaders get their teammates the ball in places where they can be successful now while I loved basketball my wife did not fully understand this until we moved as newlyweds to Southern California and I began to watch what she saw as an endless stream of NBA basketball and really the first disagreement of our marriage she came in while I was watching the basketball game and says how can you possibly justify spending so much time watching basketball when you have so little time I thought about it for a second looked her straight in the eye and said to her honestly I'm doing research after she let's just say the disagreement ended it unresolved and and and so I asked my eight my fellow graduate student colleagues you gotta help me out here how could I possibly justify what seemed like an absurd statement that I was doing research and and my team the Los Angeles Lakers were coached by Pat Riley now Pat Riley typifies what was true of most coaches in the game he he was a former player who was good but not great he was he he was more successful by grit than by gift so began to think about how could I get data to be able to study the investments that players make during the career that affect whether they coach her not now basketball data unfortunately wasn't up to the task but baseball data where statistics are King I was able to then find every player who started their career between 1950 and 1965 follow their entire career and be able to see their opportunity to coach afterwards and what I observed in that baseball data was what I observed that day watching basketball and what turns out to be true in many professions including my own with the Academy and that is that is there we go good but not great talents typically serve in positions of leadership so in baseball data one of the things that I found was that people who are really good hitters particularly those that had to work hard at becoming good hitters were more likely to coach and the reason why that is as as bad as a skill you can teach however good sluggers people hit a lot of home runs were actually less likely to coach why is that well number one it's a skill you can't teach and number two it turns out that it raises your opportunities outside the game of baseball much more than in you can sell wheedies the same thing is true in academia it turns out one of the things that I found is that the best scholars do not become administrators and remember I'm a Dean however you've got to be good enough to be able to recognize talent and good enough to be respected by talent in order to be able to be an administrator so this is important greatness is something that is accessible to very few but goodness is accessible to many with hard work you don't have to be great to be a leader you have to be good goodness is hard don't get me wrong it takes efforts many many years of efforts and commitment to excellence and this is my last point and that is that in fact leaders typically make very specific types of investments throughout their life so for example in bat and baseball one of the things I found is that people who play catcher second base shortstop were more likely to coach why because it required regular investments in not only their own success but the success of their teammates you had to be able to work with others the same thing is true in academia I've watched my colleagues been very different amounts of time in terms of their dedication to teaching teaching if you take it seriously requires the ability to learn how to communicate communication is a general skill it's a skill that'll raise your productivity not only as a teacher not only as a scholar but also an administration and what I found is the people who are good teachers are more likely to go into administration and more likely to be successful once they enter it so this is my third principle general rather than specific skill investments lead to leadership particularly those that depend on working with others this is important for me at the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences because this is the liberal arts model the liberal arts model focuses on general skills it says hey how can we question critically think logically communicate clearly act creatively live ethically rather than a professional set of skills know why as a labor economist I can tell you that's important why is it important because half the jobs that are gonna exist in the next 20 years do not yet exist you can't prepare for them as a profession so what that means is that in a world of rapid change general skills developing through a liberal arts education will define who will be the leaders of the next generation being a good accountant is a very valuable thing but it is not what makes you a leader okay so who becomes a leader well what my research shows is that these are made not born they're good but not great that they make general investments rather than specific investments what that means is that no one in this room is absolved from the burden of leadership leadership is accessible to everyone not everyone will necessarily take that opportunity but all it requires is goodness and goodness requires hard work so if you're ready to put in the time you can be a leader in fat chances are you already a leader and responsible for the success of your organization if you think about what it is that you do you have leadership responsibilities in your job so who becomes a leader well in the next century the problems that are going to be facing us are going to be complex and multifaceted they will not be solved by a single individual at the head of an organization being able to direct what happens those problems are simply too hard to solve they are going to be solved by relatively flat organizations and that flat requires trust our previous talk talks about the notion of trust you need to have trust in organizations relatively flat and give those individuals the opportunity to be leaders and it will be those leaders pursuing excellence individually that will lead to success so who becomes a leader chances are it's you so jump in that's it you

3 thoughts on “Who Becomes a Leader? (It Could Be You): Larry Singell at TEDxBloomington

  1. I like that "greatness" is almost a limitation on leadership, good enough and do the hard work = more likely to lead others 😉

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