This article was first published in ACS Axial. Click on the logo to go there.
Career building requires questioning. Where will my career go? What job type will I choose? What sort of scientist will it make me? Is there a correct decision? Will I love the choice? Will I regret it forever? For every decision, we create a fork in the road. We reflect on the paths already taken before swinging left or right on the unknown road ahead.
In the 10th year of my career, after securing an independent academic position, my focus is expanding from lab work to leadership. Of the many important career decisions I’ve made in my first decade in science, few decisions rival the lasting benefits of applying for the SciFinder Future Leaders program. Here are three quotes that embody the lessons in leadership gained from the SciFinder experience.
“I am a part of all that I have met.” – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Great leaders embrace diversity in all its forms. The most productive and creative teams are also the most varied. Through the Future Leaders program, I met and interacted with 25 incredible scientists from more than 15 countries. Together, we tackled complex problems from every point of view. Modern science is shifting away from distilled teams of singular expertise towards multidisciplinary networks, able to solve ever more intimidating and data-dense challenges. To ignore the need for diversity, you risk falling into the trap of thinking that the tip of an iceberg can tell the whole scientific story.
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” – Bill Nye
Leading a diverse team makes it necessary to be humble.
Your job as a leader is not to know everything, but how things are connected. If wisdom is about knowing what you do not know, the wisest leaders are unafraid to enlist the help of someone with more expertise. Trusting in your team members in this way instils a sense of purpose and avoids the time-draining drudgery of micromanagement.
“I could be bounded by a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.” – William Shakespeare
Good leaders make their people feel safe: Safe to work, to talk, to question, to make mistakes, to learn from mistakes, to grow, to succeed. Making your team feel safe is the first step toward achieving amazing things. If you make your talented team feel safe, they will manifest the confidence to maximise their potential, no matter what hurdles might appear along the way. Those under your command are like an extended family. You have to protect them from harm, provide for them, and deliver an environment for growth. If you only look after number one, number one is where your team will never be.
Becoming a great leader requires throwing yourself at the challenge. Observe others who do it well and those who fail miserably. Learn from the best and the worst, and experiment with your style. The SciFinder Future Leaders program helped draw out the best in me and displayed the best in my fellow participants. A perfect experiment, a memorable experience, and a chance most opportune.
See leadership as part of your career? Apply for the program. You have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.