Who Leads the Avengers?

The following is an excerpt from the EconTalk January 15, 2018 Podcast “Bill James on Baseball, Facts, and the Rules of the Game.”


Bill James, “expertise establishes validity by the credentials of the person who speaks about it.”

In science, something is known to be true by methods that are shared and known to lots of people; and other people can follow the same steps and determine that this is in fact true. Whereas, in something like handwriting analysis which is based not on science but expertise, the only way that we know that this is true is that an expert tells us that this is true. And this is problematic–very problematic in areas that rely on–we all have to rely on expertise, right?

The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

But how do we apply these “methods that are shared and known to lots of people,” to the study of individual leadership expertise?

Bill James continues, “The problem with expertise is that experts tend to agree on a certain number of things that aren’t true. Every field gets to be infected by accepted principles of knowledge that do not stand the test of time. So that, the scientists in one generation know that the scientists in the previous generation were wrong about hundreds of things. Science is a method of rooting those things out and discovering and replacing them with more solid analysis. Whereas, expertise passes those things along from generation to generation.

Russ Roberts, “And is this an example (of expertise)–which is true in economics constantly–of people who want to believe something, so they convince themselves that it must be true, and only note it and cherry-pick the things that are similar?”

Bill James, “Right. Right. You construct a narrative, and then you fill in facts that fit your narrative.”

Perhaps then what we must do is to be cautious about constructing a cherry-picked narrative of how to become a leader. Maybe leadership can lie within one’s expertise or within their path toward it? Then what we would need is not a system that teaches leadership, but shows an individual how to be an expert in their field. Therefore, finding their own path to becoming a leader in their own right. Through our studies of leadership we are beginning to formulate the theory that the two are intertwined. Our following narrative will be a minor exploration of this idea.

Those who embark on this process throughout their career and become nothing more a manager have failed in this sense. Those who do well, are leaders. In later study we will discuss the dualism of the leader versus manager categorization.

Moving on.

People fear leadership, the role of leadership, the position, the exposure. This is often why many will see the person in the leadership position in one of two lights. The first is a person of ambition, drive or purpose. We often see those in this category as someone seeking power, self-justification or realization. When you hear the phrase that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, that is this first category. The second category is the person who will, after the fact say that “I was just doing my job.” That person is the one that steps up when no others will. This person who, on a day to day basis is no different than you or me. But in that unique moment of what becomes the unconscious self-realization of leadership; that person who a moment ago was among a crowd of people just like them. Steps up and leads. We contend this person lies in the “power only corrupts the corruptible,” category.

If I see a situation going south, I can’t ignore it.
Captain America

Think back for a moment to 2015. There were three young men on a train in Europe traveling from Amsterdam to Paris when a man came out of the bathroom with AKM assault rifle intent to kill the passengers. Passengers attempted to fight him off, but the assailant persisted in his attack. This roused three young men into action. Spencer Stone, a 23-year-old member of the U.S. Air Force, who was vacationing with fellow service member Alek Skarlatos a 22-year-old Army Specialist, and their friend 23-year-old Anthony Sadler, who at the time was a senior at Sacramento University in California. Now, at this point, you probably know what happened next. They, along with other passengers stopped the gunman. It must be noted that Spencer Stone and another passenger, an American Mark Moogalian who first disarmed the gunman both did so at significant personal risk, and having gunshots or stab wounds to show for it. But that is not the surprising part.

An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.

Niels Bohr

The part that stands out above all others was the moment the simple phrase “Spencer go!” was vocalized. Not only did Mark Moogalian see danger and act without thought. All it took for the other three was something inside a young college student from California that told Spencer to “go!” That was all it took, that one word that set them all in motion. Was Spencer Stone a soldier? Did he have combat training? Apparently not. But at some point in his life, he made a series of decision that led him to turn one word into action. So what’s so special about Spencer Stone? Yes, he was in the U.S. Air Force, but as a medical technician. Has he had any significant combat training or experience? Probably not, most Air Force members get very little in that area, it’s not known if he has a record of combat-related deployments. There is a People magazine article saying he was an “intake clerk for children who needed to be treated,” while he was stationed in California. So what was it in him that simply made him “go” when spurned by the words of his friend, both of whom did not hesitate to follow? What was it in all them?

Sam, “What do we do Cap?”
Captain America, “We fight.”

The answer to this question is something you need to find out for yourself. Maybe you already have it in you? Perhaps you lead the right kind of lifestyle, you have the right kind of friends, parents, education, and upbringing? Or maybe one day you had the inspiration of a superhero movie that created that little part of you to say that you won’t go down without a fight, or that you will not stand by or run when others are in danger.

Leadership is not that person of ambition. The roots of good leadership are born in the work that you put into yourself over time. The habits you form, the ethics you forge and the morality you portray. Tempered in the fire of trying, making a mistake, and trying again.

“I” do not hit, “it” hits all by itself.

Bruce Lee

If Bill James tells us that “expertise establishes validity by the credentials of the person who speaks about it.” He goes on to inform us that the “methods — are shared and known,” so that others can “follow the same steps and determine that this is in fact true.” Leadership, though is not so simply boiled down to trial and error. But it is simply that, having the courage to get up and try. Having the courage to get up when circumstance demands it. This expertise comes out in a flash, unconscious, reflexive. When asked about what went on in their mind, you often hear some say “I don’t know, my training just kicked in.” What was it in Spencer’s mind that “kicked in” at that moment? What are the methods? Bruce Lee is famous for putting words to what Asian philosophers and martial artists have known for thousands of year, “A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready.” This is achieved through dedicated, daily training. Going on for years and even decades it will create in you the ability that “when there is an opportunity, “I” do not hit, “it” hits all by itself.” The idea being that you are so well practiced and experienced that your reactions, be they mental or physical are automatic, unconscious. This same philosophy can be extended to all human endeavors. And you see it every day in a baseball game, a tennis match, a Formula One driver, Police responding to an emergency, they do exactly what they become prepared to do, what they have trained themselves to do…through focused, daily practice.

Having one thing, to know ten thousand things.

Miyamoto Musashi

Do you want to be a leader? Then train, every day. Become that expert at whatever it is you do. Read what others have written, learn from other experts in related and unrelated fields and apply those lessons in the real world. Create your tools and let no tool you have to go unused. In Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, he wrote that he “cannot write in detail how this is done. The principle of strategy (leadership) is having one thing, to know ten thousand things.” And that “the essence of this is that you must train day and night in order to make quick decisions. In strategy, it is necessary to treat training as part of normal life with your spirit unchanging.” Musashi then later writes that “XXX

The truth is evident. The Dart Arts of Leadership has many vectors, constants, and precepts, but only one truth; that anyone can be a leader. As long as you work for it and train yourself for it. You “must train day and night.”

Maybe those three boys from America got it right somehow? Maybe everyone on that train who stood up got it right somehow…They must have since one of them came away with the nickname “Captain America.”

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