D. Michael Lindsay, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, said his research showed that many of the people now considered elite in America did not start out that way. He is conducting what he described as the largest study ever of top leaders in America, having talked to over 500 so far across business, nonprofits and academia.
He said he had found that a privileged upbringing did not matter as much as generally thought. Nor, he said, did many of the top leaders inherit large sums of money. While many went to top colleges and a large number attended Harvard Business School, the biggest determining factor of whether someone moved into the elite was an early career opportunity.
Being able to look beyond their specialty early — as opposed to being highly specialized their entire career and then thrust into a leadership role — distinguished great leaders more than any inherent advantage in their upbringing, he said.
“These people had a chance to be a generalist early on, as opposed to being specialists their whole career,” Mr. Lindsay said. “They had that experience in their early 30s or 40s.”
--Paul Sullivan, NYT, on the advantage of being a generalist