[Lunch with Harry] Predicting Success

The holy grail of management development programs is being able to assess skills, and predict who will – and who won’t – succeed. The hits and misses of what it takes line the walls: IQ and schools attended have become big misses, perseverance in trying and “grit” have become big hits. While work by researchers such as Carol Dweck, K. Anders Ericsson, and Angela Duckworth has been shedding much needed light into what ingredients go into the broth of managerial success, the past misperceptions and stereotypes still linger.

Sometimes, though, you get the chance to see someone who will be successful up close and early, and my lunch with Harry LeGrande today reminded me of what he possessed that I thought would make him be successful. The question with some people is “if.” With Harry, the question was more likely “when.”

As fellow graduate students at Oregon State University, Harry neither came to the graduate program from a (sorry Harry) undergraduate school that was widely touted, nor was he born with the proverbial silver spoon of connections with which some are blessed – or cursed.

Harry did have many of the qualities that research shows pays off: strong interpersonal skills and a high EQ, and the ability to both have a point of view and collaborate well. Harry as a grad student was also smart enough but not too smart: unlike some people who play a perpetual game of “best student”, Harry had a knack for sharing any spotlight with the other students in the program. While he enjoyed his off time like anyone else, he was somebody who you saw show up early for and stay late for work.

He also had a good sense of humor: when I pinged him tonite after this post he wrote back “It was good to catch up even if briefly and it was good seeing you again and knowing you are as “evil ” as ever:)” Last, he had a certain joy in his presence: he enjoyed what he was doing.

Occasionally the folks who you think will shine, don’t. Harry and I talked about another colleague who seemed to have it all and some place along the way the wheels fell off: a divorce, a bumpy short stint at a major university, and this likely-to-make-it colleague got sidelined into lesser jobs at lesser programs.

So I was not surprised to see last year that Harry had been tapped for the top Student Affairs post at UC-Berkeley  as a Vice-Chancellor. My thought, after all, was not if, but when.