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Leadership Development for Statisticians—Let’s Take the Time!

1 October 2013 One Comment
Gary R. Sullivan, Senior Director in Global Statistical Sciences & Advanced Analytics, Eli Lilly and Company

In his book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck shares a personal anecdote of observing a neighbor repairing his lawnmower. He says to the neighbor, “I’ve never been able to fix those kind of things or do anything like that.” The neighbor replies, “That’s because you don’t take the time.” Mr. Peck goes on to share that, at first, he was taken aback by the comment of his neighbor, but, at his next opportunity to repair something, he took the time and was able to have success.

I believe this to be the case with statisticians and leadership. It’s not that we can’t be strong leaders in the organizations in which we work. Rather, we simply haven’t taken the time to develop leaders within our profession. In his February 2012 President’s Corner article in Amstat News, Bob Rodriquez identified leadership ability as a “prerequisite for the growth of our field,” essentially calling out our profession and challenging us to “take the time.”

As a member of Bob Starbuck’s workgroup on Career Success Factors for statisticians, I was asked to share what we have done at Eli Lilly and Company to develop the leadership of our statisticians. I am happy to share that we’ve developed a webcast available on the ASA website that provides an explanation of our program. Before sending you off to view the webcast, let me briefly provide some background about how our program came to be, as well as its content and impact.

In 2009, as our statistics function was developing a new strategy, we realized we had little hope of having the impact we believed we could without stronger leadership from our statisticians. It was at that time that we set out to develop a leadership program for our 250+ statisticians. It took us about nine months to create a comprehensive program comprised of the following three parts:

  • The Leadership by Design component is a wiki resource in which our statisticians can tailor a plan to develop one or two specific leadership competencies
  • The Advancing Leadership Program is a classroom-style course in which our statisticians are exposed to different leaders in and out of the company to better understand leadership and its impact and to determine their own leadership principles
  • The Quarterly Leadership Presentation is a series in which the entire function hears a perspective on leadership from an established leader to gain additional insight to help their individual journeys
Career Planning Webcast
In a new webcast, eminent statisticians Christy Chuang-Stein, Cynthia Clark, Fred Hulting, Sally Morton, Nat Schenker, and Dan Solomon address questions about career planning issues that can arise during one’s career and discuss how they dealt with them. Their candid words may help you deal with the same or similar issues.

The 90-minute webcast may be viewed in its entirety or one chapter at a time. The following chapters comprise the webcast:

  • Finding a Challenging and Rewarding Position
  • Career Advancement
  • Work and Family
  • Job Location
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Compensation
  • Involvement in Professional Society Activities

How has our program made a difference? We define leadership as “the ability to inspire people to take a specific direction or action when they truly have the freedom or choice to do otherwise.” For statisticians, this is truly necessary to convince the business to adopt innovative approaches, implement new strategies, or make decisions that have significant impact on our patients and products, both in development and in the marketplace.

I can cite many examples of how we have influenced approaches, decisions, and strategies I believe were enabled by developing the appropriate leadership competencies. However, the best evidence is perhaps the fact that we have influenced in these ways at the highest levels of the company, including our business unit presidents, our CEO, and our board of directors. The leadership of our statisticians has truly made a difference in the success of not only our function, but also our company and the lives of our patients.

The webcast is now available for viewing at the ASA website. It consists of 10 short videos that explain different aspects of our journey. These include an explanation of the three components of our program, several Q&A sessions with company stakeholders, and a final section with ideas about how anyone can get started.

As leadership development continues to gain steam in our profession, there is no doubt that our influence as statisticians will grow in the organizations within which we work. We believe sharing the path we have taken at Eli Lilly can help others make progress on their leadership journeys. ASA President-elect Nat Schenker has sanctioned a workgroup led by Janet Buckingham to develop training in statistical leadership. I would also encourage others to share their programs and successes in leadership development. Let’s make leadership development “the road more traveled” by statisticians.

Good luck on your leadership journey!

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One Comment »

  • Matt Barney said:

    I would love to see more people follow the lead of statistians. This includes both formal and informal leadership roles and processes.

    And I would hope that statisticians, more than any other group of professionals, would be especially sympathetic to an evidence-based approach to the measurement and development of leaders.

    There are a variety of social scientists who have been modeling leadership with various methods for the last 70+ years, and we have meta-analytic evidence for relatively better approaches to leadership, and to growing it in a scientifically meaningful way.

    Thank you for this article