Learnings from Amy Edmondson, the #1 Top Management Thinker

Since 2001, Thinkers50 has published a “global ranking of management thinkers” every two years. They recently released their top Thinkers50 of 2021 which featured Amy Edmondson as the #1 Thinker. With Amy Edmondson rated as the top management thinker, what can we learn from her character and success? Learning from others and their experiences is a great path to insight and knowledge. In the words of French author, Voltaire, “Is there anyone so wise as to learn from the experience of others?” Let’s be wise together and look into what we can learn from from Amy Edmondson.

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Why Amy Edmondson was rated #1

Thinkers50 states that Amy is a “pioneer and champion of psychological safety [who] studies people, projects, and organizations to uncover the secrets of successful teaming.”


In recent years, she received the 2017 Thinkers50 Talent Award for her work on psychological safety, 2019 Breakthrough Idea Award for her book The Fearless Organization, 2020 Book of the Year Award for her book The Fearless Organization, and in 2019 was recognized by the Human Resources Magazine as the #1 most influential thinker in human resources.


Today, she is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School where she studies “human interactions that lead to the creation of successful enterprises.” Her studies have appeared in various academic and management outlets such as the Academy of Management Journal and Administrative Science Quarterly.


Amy has published several books including Organizational Learning and Competitive Advantage, Teaming to Innovate, and The Fearless Organization. Amy received her Ph.D. in organizational behavior and has also studied psychology and engineering.


Characteristics of success

Below we outline three key features of Amy Edmondson’s character and career that have contributed to her great success as a leader for businesses and academics. Consider the following and examine how you can further develop these characteristics in your own coaching practice and life in general.


A dedication to the facts

One of the key features of Amy’s success is her dedication to facts, research, and data. This dedication to research is visible in her “2018 Sumantra Ghoshal Award for Rigour and Relevance in the Study of Management from London Business School” (HBS, n.d.).


Amy has provided the academic community with high-quality research studies throughout her career. She has been a part of numerous academic research studies, such as her 2021 article in the Academy of Management, “Joint Problem-Solving Orientation in Fluid Cross-boundary Teams.” In her book, The Fearless Organization, she seeks to help “knowledge-intensive organizations work better” by using her findings from “20 years” of research on “psychological safety” (Edmonson, 2018a).


She has also used these studies to create other books for students and business leaders. Amy has not developed her books on her own experiences or opinions and instead yields to scientific findings discovered in her research. This ultimately gives business leaders and academics alike research-based strategies for success.


Determination, longevity, grit

Amy has displayed a great amount of determination, longevity, and grit in her career. She has been with the Harvard Business School as their Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management for over 25 years, she previously served as Director of Research with Pecos River Learning Centers for 5 years, and in 1980, Amy was the Chief Engineer for Buckminster Fuller Institute.


During the 1980s, “only 5.8% of engineers in the U.S. were women” according to Mark Crawford of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (2012). Regardless of being a leader in a statistically “male-dominated” industry, Amy displayed grit and pushed through any challenges she faced, which has allowed her to create a career of legacy.


Amy was determined to continue her career in the sciences and continues to do so, further displaying her longevity and impact on business leaders and the scientific community.


Valuing teamwork

Amy has recognized the importance of teamwork. In her book, The Fearless Organization, Amy provides “practical guidance for teams and organizations who are serious about success” (Edmonson, 2018a). Within the book, she points out that her research was primarily focused on teams because “that’s how most work gets done.” She defines teamwork as “teaming” which is “the art of communicating and coordinating with people across boundaries of all kinds” (Edmonson, 2018a).


Amy’s passion for teamwork is evident in her research as well as her very popular 2018(b) TedTalk, “How to Turn a Group of Strangers Into a Team,” which has been watched and listened to over 2.8 million times. The talk gives listeners great insight into the importance of teamwork and how to create an environment of what she calls “teaming.”


Amy even recognizes the importance of teamwork in her own work and how collaboration with others can speed innovation. Many of her research papers are done with the help of other academics such as Ranjay Gulati in her publication “Agility Hacks.” Amy’s passion for excellent teamwork and her own willingness to gain insight from reputable sources and teammates have increased the number of studies she has been able to participate in and caused her to be a leader in the world of managing teams effectively.


The main takeaway

Amy has been a powerful force for the psychological safety movement in today’s team management. With her vast array of awards and research studies, she has been able to make great contributions to both business leaders and the academic community. Throughout her career, Amy has been dedicated to the facts. She finds questions and looks for the answers in data and research, not just her own perspective. She has also displayed a great amount of grit, determination, and longevity in her many years with Harvard Business School and her early career in a statistically male-dominated industry. Amy also values teamwork. Her acceptance and support of teamwork and building better teams has not only increased her learning and leadership skills but also the development of many businesses worldwide. Amy Edmondson is truly a powerhouse fueled by research, the desire to help teams thrive, and make businesses better.


In closing, we encourage you to reflect on Amy Edmondson’s success. Ask yourself “Am I dedicated to facts and finding the latest research for my coaching clients?”...“Do I display grit for my clients?”...“Do I value teamwork?”...and “How can I encourage the development of these traits in my own clients?”


Resources

Crawford, M. (2012, September 12). Engineering Still Needs More Women. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://www.asme.org/topics-resources/content/engineering-still-needs-more-women.


Edmondson, A. C. (2018a). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth (1st ed.). Wiley.


Edmondson, A. C. (2018b, May 24). How to turn a group of strangers into a team. TED Talks. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_edmondson_how_to_turn_a_group_of_strangers_into_a_team.


HBS. (n.d.). Amy C. Edmondson - Faculty & Research - Harvard Business School. Harvard Business School. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?facId=6451.


Thinkers50. (n.d.). Thinkers50 | Identifying, Ranking, and Sharing Management Ideas. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://thinkers50.com/.


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