John Hawks, the renowned University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropology professor, made headlines around the world last fall for his role in unearthing a new hominin species in South Africa. The discovery transformed our understanding of the human family tree.
Hawks is celebrated as an expert on human evolution. His leadership skills are less well known, but they too are world-class. Hawks’ work depends on collaborating with large, diverse groups under high pressure, both on archeological digs and in the laboratory. He needs to bring people together as a team to achieve results, and he’s learned what it takes to succeed in the role of a leader.
Hawks will share his hard-earned insights in a keynote speech at Rethinking Leadership: Insights and Application of New Perspectives, a May 5 conference sponsored by the UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies. In “Leadership Lessons from the Field,” he’ll lay out a philosophy that can work for managers of any sort, using his epochal discovery in Africa as an example.
Hawks believes that, like scientists, managers must approach their work with a spirit of inquiry. In other words: thinking outside the box.
“Imagine your organization as a process of discovery,” he says. “What does it take to make people work together better?”
Rethinking Leadership, held at Madison Marriott West, is geared toward managers who want to go to the next level. In a discussion-oriented format, the one-day conference will provide useful tools and new perspectives from practitioners on the cutting edge. Participants will dig deeply into a choice of 12 provocative topics like “The Art of Empathy without Burnout,” “The Problem with Authenticity,” and “The Myths of Engaging and Retaining Millennials.”
‘Every piece of insight’
In his field, Hawks leads the way in terms of developing data standards, creating transparency, and managing rapid growth. He’s also focused on career development for his younger team members. These are useful goals for contemporary leaders of all types.
“The ideas that have worked for us are broadly useful for managers and directors in medium to large organizations that depend on clear communication to target audiences,” he says.
Groupthink is anathema in scientific discovery, so Hawks allows his team members to approach a problem from many directions. The trick, for a leader, is to bring the varied ideas together into a coherent plan.
“I work to build consensus by creating situations where I can listen to the goals and observations of team members individually and in small groups,” Hawks says.
Hawks’ work is constantly under scrutiny, and he welcomes input from his harshest critics. It takes a strong leader to remain open-minded, but he sees the value in incorporating ideas from the best thinkers in his field.
“We’ve soaked in every piece of insight we can get from other organizations as we work on making our project stronger,” he says. “I imagine that most of us are looking for those insights wherever we can.”