Expertise, Success, and Leadership — Study

Bob Sutton at Work Matters (blog here) has an excellent post on this topic (here), along with comments on a provocative study on the relationship among expertise, success, and leadership.  I agree w/ Bob’s basic premise:

[L]eaders aren’t as easily fooled by hollow smart talk, and are more likely to talk in ways that help their followers succeed (rather than simply sound impressive), when they have past deep experience in the industry along with years of experience doing, managing, and succeeding at the kind of work their people do.

As part of his discussion, Bob points to a study (PDF here, Andrew Gelman’s stats blog commentary here) that purports to prove this point.  Which I guess it does to a certain extent.  It appears that coaches with NBA playing experience have more regular season and playoff success than those who don’t.  It also appears that being a better player — all-star game selection being the proxy — has a bearing on regular season records and a weaker correlation with playoff success (the ultimate measure of achievement in a professional league).

However, the study and related posts throw around “great” and “superstar” when characterizing these ex-all-stars, which stretches the point too far.  I’m not sure anything in this study contradicts the received wisdom that truly great players struggle as coaches or managers.  How many truly great players — looking at Top 50 All-Time in the NBA or Hall of Fame in major league baseball — have had any success as coaches or managers?  (BTW, the Basketball HOF isn’t professional only).

Lenny Wilkens is the clear exception — he made both the NBA Top 10 coaches and Top 50 player lists.  Anyone other examples of great players being excellent coaches.  Maybe Larry Bird?  Maybe Bill Russell (oh yeah, he had a guy named “Bill Russell” as his center).  Are there any HOF baseball players or managers who were outstanding in the other role?  John McGraw and Al Lopez are probably the best examples (HOF managers who were excellent players).

Great topic…I’ll relate more experiences and observations on the relationship among expertise, success, and leadership in a follow-up post.


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  1. […] Expertise, Success, and Leadership — Study […]

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