Andrew Oswald sent me this paper by Amanda Goodall, Lawrence Kahn, and himself, called “Why Do Leaders Matter? The Role of Expert Knowledge.” Here’s the abstract:
Why do some leaders succeed while others fail? This question is important, but its complexity makes it hard to study systematically. We draw on a setting where there are well-defined objectives, small teams of workers, and exact measures of leaders characteristics and organizational performance. We show that a strong predictor of a leader’s success in year T is that person’s own level of attainment, in the underlying activity, in approximately year T-20. Our data come from 15,000 professional basketball games and reveal that former star players make the best coaches. This expert knowledge effect is large.
My first thought upon seeing this paper was: What about Isiah Thomas? But a glance through reveals that their data end at 2004, before Isiah took up his Knicks coaching job.
More seriously, Goodall et al.’s findings seem to contradict the conventional wisdom in baseball that the best managers are the mediocre or ok players such as Earl Weaver and Casey Stengel rather than the superstars such as Ted Williams and Ty Cobb. I’d be interested to hear what the authors think about this.
Scatterplot, please! It’s not just about an eye-catching result; it’s about building confidence in your findings
I won’t bother to give my comments on the tables and graphs (except to note that the figures are hard to read for many reasons, starting with the fact that these are bar graphs with lower bounds at 0.4 (?), 0.6 (??), etc.).
What I will say, though, is that I’d like to see a scatterplot, with a dot for each coach/team (four different colors for the four categories of coaches), plotting total winning percentage (on the y-axis) vs. winning percentage in the year or two before the coach joined the team (on the x-axis). This is the usual before-after graph, which can then be embellished with 4 regression lines in the colors corresponding to the four groups of coaches.
When reading such an analysis, I really, really want to see the main patterns in the data. Otherwise I really have to take the results on trust. This is related to my larger point about confidence building.