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#LeadWithStatistics!

1 February 2018 4 Comments
Lisa LaVange

Lisa LaVange

I chose #LeadWithStatistics as the 2018 JSM theme to both acknowledge accomplishments of our community and signal my commitment to developing leaders. One of my presidential initiatives is to establish a leadership institute at the ASA that provides resources and opportunities for members to develop leadership skills as they progress through all career stages. My vision is that the institute will be sustaining and become a home for various professional development offerings, both current and planned.

Why choose leadership as a presidential initiative? We’ve accomplished a lot in this space, thanks to initiatives of past ASA presidents. But there is both a real and perceived need out there for focused leadership training and better leaders. We have talked much about leadership during meetings and successfully taught leadership concepts and skills at JSM workshops, so how do we go to the next level?

In thinking about what an ASA leadership institute might provide, I have the following three goals in mind:

  1. Some statisticians will become leaders of groups of statisticians during their careers. They may be selected for senior leadership positions based on their technical expertise and accomplishments or as a natural next step in their career progression within an organization. It is likely their previous education will not have included a solid foundation in leadership principles. Offering the opportunity to learn both the theory behind good leadership and its application, ideally through actual case studies, would benefit ASA members who find themselves on a leadership career path or taking on a leadership role for a project or volunteer activity.
  2. Most statisticians will experience being part of a multi-disciplinary project team or working group at some point during their careers, due to the nature of our profession, and for many, this participation will be a key determinant of their ability to have a positive impact through their work. The ability to carry an important point or influence other team members, possibly even assume a leadership role within the group, will be enhanced with strong leadership skills. This is referred to as emergent leadership, as opposed to assigned leadership, and is often thought to be even more difficult than its counterpart, because no direct line of authority exists between the leader and the fellow team members. Influence is a key factor in determining who will lead or whose voice will be heard as the team moves forward to achieve its goals. ASA members who have had the opportunity to learn sound principles of emergent leadership will benefit in such settings.
  3. All of us are influenced by leaders of organizations, in the workplace and beyond, and effective leaders rely on sound judgment, logical thinking, and the ability to derive solutions or make decisions using analytical methods. Statistics is a key component of analytical decision making, and decision making should be one of the foundational components of any leadership training program. If we make opportunities for advanced learning decision analytics to leaders of all disciplines, ASA members will benefit.

Before getting into specifics, a brief tour through history is needed.

In the fall of 2011, I had the opportunity to co-develop and co-teach a doctoral-level course in statistical leadership for UNC’s Biostatistics Department with Bill Sollecito, former director of the Public Health Leadership Program. A committee to evaluate the need for such a course soon realized many of our graduates had achieved leadership positions in their careers and thought it was high time we provided some formal training before they left us. The pilot year had a small group of dedicated students and was the subject of two Amstat News articles in 2012 (see Preparing Biostatisticians for Leadership Opportunities and Statistical Leadership: Preparing Our Future Leaders), thanks to then–ASA president-elect Bob Rodriguez’s agreeing to represent the leaders-of-voluntary-organizations category for the case studies portion of the course. Based on his experience leading the strategic planning effort as an ASA Board member, Bob led a class exercise that was both informative and inspiring.

As 2012 ASA president, Bob led an initiative on effectively communicating statistics and suggested a leadership initiative as a nice extension. When 2013 President-elect Nathaniel Schenker took up the charge, an ad hoc committee on leadership was formed with Janet Buckingham as chair. Janet and the current chair, Gary Sullivan, led the effort to develop the first JSM workshop for the 2014 meeting in Boston. And the rest is history!

Back to the present—we have five wonderfully talented steering committee members to advise us as we move forward with the institute:

  • Erica Groshen – Visiting Senior Scholar at the Industrial and Labor Relations School at Cornell University and former Commissioner of Labor Statistics (2013–2017)
  • Debbie Hughes – Vice President for Higher Education and Workforce Development at the Business and Higher Education Forum
  • Michael Rappa – Goodnight Director and Distinguished University Professor, Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University
  • Bob Rodriguez – Senior Director in SAS Research and Development and former ASA President
  • Aarti Shah – Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer and former Vice President of Biometrics and Advanced Analytics at Eli Lilly and Company

The steering committee held two brain-storming sessions in 2017 and their first face-to-face meeting in late January of this year to discuss when and how to reach statisticians in their career trajectories to be the most effective. I plan to feature each member in future articles, but asked Bob Rodriguez to provide his thoughts, which he does here:

Statisticians have always sat across the table from people in other fields such as medicine, business, and management. We have been expected to contribute from our end by collaborating, consulting, and computing—but seldom at the start of the discussion.

That expectation is changing because data are now viewed as the key to strategic goals, not just a technical resource. As one executive told me, “The most valuable people in my organization contribute in the middle of the table, between technical people at one end and management people at the other end. I need statisticians who can move to the middle by formulating problems, identifying relevant data, and bringing others along in the discussion.”

I like to describe statistical leadership as “moving to the middle” because it helps us understand that leadership flows from influence, rather than a management title. We can all become statistical leaders by recognizing a critical problem; moving to the center of the issue; and influencing others to initiate change, develop solutions, or create value.

A key element of the JSM leadership workshop, and any leadership course for that matter, is the opportunity to hear how current leaders chose their particular career path and what lessons they learned along the way and are willing to share. Another article in this issue of Amstat News (San Francisco Bay Area Chapter Hosts Career Development Panel) features a summary of a session consisting of just those stories.

My intent in selecting the 2018 JSM theme #LeadWithStatistics was to keep the spotlight shining on the importance of effective leadership and our community’s contributions. This choice was somewhat of a play on words, in that athletes lead from their point of strength, like a boxer leading with the stronger arm. I happen to think many multi-disciplinary settings would benefit from having more strong statistical leaders. But statistics is such a critical component of effective leadership for leaders of any discipline—statistics helps us make sense of vast amounts of information, appreciate uncertainty in our predictions, and be better decision makers. What leader would not be better off leading from this strong suit? As this initiative advances, we hope to find novel and concrete ways to make this suit even stronger for interested ASA members.

Happy February!

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4 Comments »

  • Tim Gabel said:

    I cannot think of a better initiative on which the statistical community could focus. One need not be a manager to be a leader — leadership come from every level in every organization. I hope all of us will get behind this important endeavor and do our part!

  • Karen Messer said:

    Great initiative! Thank you!!

  • Michael A. Rice said:

    Thank you for this. I do have one observation. I did not see any mention of AP Statistics or any outreach to the high schools. Now I realize the focus is on undergraduate and graduate students and getting them started in statistics careers, but those students need to come from somewhere. I hope you will consider the leaders of the AP Statistics program and contact them and ask how this new initiative can be incorporated into the high schools.

  • Laura Meyerson said:

    Very important initiatives for the next generation of leaders in statistics.