May 8 Day 61: Leadership

Look around you. Who is leading? Who gets to lead? And how are they doing at it? The COVID-19 crisis has elevated some leaders to new heights while exposing serious flaws in others.

So what makes someone an effective leader? In my opinion, they need to have:

  • a clear and well-articulated vision;
  • the ability to inspire others to reach for that vision—building the team and trusting their expertise;
  • a willingness to have ideas challenged, sharpened, and improved by anyone with good reason and common sense;
  • deep listening skills, even to criticism, that lead to appropriate and visible action;
  • the desire to see everyone grow and succeed; and
  • the strength to make difficult decisions in service of the greater good.

I am a mathematician not a management expert. These observations are my own but heavily influenced by my upbringing, my professional experiences, and my reading of Radical Candor by Kim Scott.

The listed attributes remind me very much of my late father, Dr. John J. Quinn—a whip-smart first generation university student, a renown theoretical physicist, and an admirable academic administrator. He had a strong moral center and would take action based on what he thought was right, not what was easy or popular. His actions could be small and personal (like choosing not to eat at “The Hot Shop” during his graduate school days at the University of Maryland because they did not serve people of color) or large and public (like working towards a fair resolution between members of a class action suit and his University.) Of his administrative experiences he said that there wasn’t a single decision made that didn’t upset somebody and he was okay with that because he did his best to account for all concerns.

I find myself yearning for leadership like my father’s. In this time of global crisis and uncertainty, we need strong compasses to follow towards our north stars.

John J. Quinn (1933-2018), father, physicist, and my personal role model.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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