Home > data science, modeling, musing > How do we quantitatively foster leadership?

How do we quantitatively foster leadership?

December 2, 2012

I was really impressed with yesterday’s Tedx Women at Barnard event yesterday, organized by Nathalie Molina, who organizes the Athena Mastermind group I’m in at Barnard. I went to the morning talks to see my friend and co-author Rachel Schutt‘s presentation and then came home to spend the rest of the day with my kids, but they other three I saw were also interesting and food for thought.

Unfortunately the videos won’t be available for a month or so, and I plan to blog again when they are for content, but I wanted to  discuss an issue that came up during the Q&A session, namely:

what we choose to quantify and why that matters, especially to women.

This may sound abstract but it isn’t. Here’s what I mean. The talks were centered around the following 10 themes:

  • Inspiration: Motivate, and nurture talented people and build collaborative teams
  • Advocacy: Speak up for yourself and on behalf of others
  • Communication: Listen actively; speak persuasively and with authority
  • Vision: Develop strategies, make decisions and act with purpose
  • Leverage: Optimize your networks, technology, and financing to meet strategic goals; engage mentors and sponsors
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit: Be innovative, imaginative, persistent, and open to change
  • Ambition: Own your power, expertise and value
  • Courage: Experiment and take bold, strategic risks
  • Negotiation: Bridge differences and find solutions that work effectively for all parties
  • Resilience: Bounce back and learn from adversity and failure

The speakers were extraordinary and embodied their themes brilliantly. So Rachel spoke about advocating for humanity through working with data, and this amazing woman named Christa Bell spoke about inspiration, and so on. Again, the actual content is for another time, but you get the point.

A high school teacher was there with five of her female students. She spoke eloquently of how important and inspiring it was that these girls saw these talk. She explained that, at their small-town school, there’s intense pressure to do well on standardized tests and other quantifiable measures of success, but that there’s essentially no time in their normal day to focus on developing the above attributes.

Ironic, considering that you don’t get to be a “success” without ambition and courage, communication and vision, or really any of the themes.

In other words, we have these latent properties that we really care about and are essential to someone’s success, but we don’t know how to measure them so we instead measure stuff that’s easy to measure, and reward people based on those scores.

By the way, I’m not saying we don’t also need to be good at content, and tasks, which are easier to measure. I’m just saying that, by focusing on content and tasks, and rewarding people good at that, we’re not developing people to be more courageous, or more resilient, or especially be better advocates of others.

And that’s where the women part comes in. Women, especially young women, are sensitive to the expectations of the culture. If they are getting scored on X, they tend to focus on getting good at X. That’s not a bad thing, because they usually get really good at X, but we have to understand the consequences of it. We have to choose our X’s well.

I’d love to see a system evolve wherein young women (and men) are trained to be resilient and are rewarded for that just as they’re trained to do well on the SAT’s and rewarded for that. How do you train people to be courageous? I’m sure it can be done. How crazy would it be to see a world where advocating for others is directly encouraged?

Let’s try to do this, and hell let’s quantify it too, since that desire, to quantify everything, is not going away. Instead of giving up because important things are hard to quantify, let’s just figure out a way to quantify them. After all, people didn’t think their musical tastes could be quantified 15 years ago but now there’s Pandora.

Update: Ok to quantify this, but the resulting data should not be sold or publicly available. I don’t want our sons’ and daughters’ “resilience scores” to be part of their online personas for everyone to see.

Categories: data science, modeling, musing
  1. December 2, 2012 at 11:24 am | #1

    > Update: Ok to quantify this, but the resulting data should not be sold or publicly available. I don’t want our sons’ and daughters’ “resilience scores” to be part of their online personas for everyone to see.

    Absolutely! They should be like our health care records, faithfully guarded by so many congressional statutes. Nowhere else is our privacy more valiantly protected.

  2. elzorado
    December 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm | #2

    Perhaps another quality to be taught or engendered might be “Empathy and Connection” — in which case the argument in favour of quantification, or the competitive need for ranking, becomes less. And the other skills might just have a better chance of being really useful for both the individual boy or girl and society at large. Very interesting post, like most. Cheers.

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