It is unfortunate, but it is not often that we get to acknowledge and celebrate the work and contribution that someone else has made to our lives. Even less frequent is the opportunity to do so while they are in the room. Often we wait until it is far too late, as epigraph or obituary.
Given this rarity, it is a wonderful thing when it actually does happen. I had the opportunity to experience just such an event as part of the Strategic Management Society in Denver this past weekend. Three sessions were devoted to the works and contributions of Kathleen Eisenhardt, a prolific and well respected scholar at Stanford University.
The breadth of Eisenhardt’s contribution is immense. She has authored more than 100 academic papers, many of which are the most frequently cited sources in other research. She has contributed not just to theory (in an astonishing number of domains) but also methods and research practice, and in particular the development and legitimization of case study research as a qualitative technique.
Several of the presenters in these sessions were her former students, many of whom have also gone on to their own academic success as respected researchers and scholars. They highlighted the contributions that Eisenhardt has made not only to process and theory, but also to their lives and development. As several speakers identified, she has a gift for identifying strengths her students may not realize in themselves, and for challenging them to reach their full potential.
Speaking personally, Eisenhardt has been an unavoidable influence in my own development and research, although I do not know her personally and had not met her before this weekend. My doctoral research cited and built on many of her previous studies. Her work in agency and strategic decision making were particularly influential (even if her work on agency was the least favourite part of her legacy). My current work in how to manage in environment of uncertainty and complexity continues to intersect with her work and ideas. She is and will undoubtedly continue to be (deservedly) recognized as one of he great management scholars of our time.
There is an important insight to gain here, however. The kind of success and recognition that Eisenhardt has attained is not an accident. It would be easy for the outside observer to be envious. It would be natural for any one of us to want to believe (and know) that we have had the same kind of impact on those in our own lives. It is, however, entirely a product of hard work, as well as an incredible investment and appreciation for those around her. This is particularly true for the doctoral students that she supervises. She pushes, she challenges and she doesn’t accept simply adequate or ’good enough.’ Yet she is also a valued and appreciated friend to each of them, sustaining relationships long past when professional involvement has ended.
As one of the speakers stated, quoting the great coach Vince Lombardi, “The only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the success that Eisenhardt has attained. I am deeply appreciative of those in my own life, who have mentored, influenced and challenged my own development (and I am pleased to still consider many of them friends also). And I hope that in time I have the same impact on those With whom I work, support and collaborate with. As should we all.