Why is Leadership important?


If you are starting out in your research career, you are going to be in charge of leading a team that will drive one of the most critically important professional enterprises of your life. Leading this group successfully will depend not only on the outstanding scientific skills you have honed, but it will also require a host of other skills. You will need to effectively manage a talented group of people, pilot successful collaborations within and outside of your group, deftly navigate the complexities of the institution, adeptly manage the inevitable conflicts that arise in a high stakes environment, tackle the challenges of running a small business, and inspire others to do their best so that your scientific vision is realized. Scientists who are skilled leaders are also valuable to research organizations by driving projects to completion more effectively, establishing a vision, fostering innovation and collaboration, and by engaging and motivating others to deliver on organizational objectives.

It takes years of specialized training for scientists to become productive researchers, let alone successful leaders. To make an impact in their field of study—to become an influencer in the scientific community—scientists need leadership skills that are rarely the focus of their formal education and that are certainly difficult to acquire on the job. Successful scientists must be able to convincingly explain their research, be able to differentiate themselves in a sea of funding applications and speak confidently about their research to other scientists and non-scientists. These skills are not always emphasized in the academic environment, but are necessary to establish and run a successful research team.

What are "leadership skills"?

To make a good start it is important to get an idea of which skills are important and where to begin. We think the following skills are a great place to begin:

  • Perform a SWOT analysis of yourself and your department / lab to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities 
  • Define and communicate your vision
  • Develop your negotiation and conflict management skills
  • Build resilience
  • Practice giving constructive feedback
  • Develop effective communication skills
  • Learn to manage multiple projects

All these skills are interrelated. So the good news is that when you develop one of these skills your are most likely working on developing some of the other too. For example, developing communication skills normally also improves conflict management and communicating of your vision (if you have one). Learning effective delegation may also increase the motivation of your group members and improve the management of multiple projects.

Developing your Leadership skills

How can you develop some of these skills? Mount Sinai has a range of leadership programs that might be relevant to you depending on your current position within the organization. You can find these listed in the Resources section below along with other online resources to support you in developing your leadership skills. There are also some other activities that may help you to develop the leadership skills to help you.
• Join a professional society and get involved
• Seek opportunities to collaborate
• Be proactive and not reactive
• Find a mentor or mentors who demonstrate effective leadership skills

It is crucial to understand that all these skills must be developed for the rest of your life. No intelligent person would say “I have learned enough about communication skills” or “I finished studying complex project management. I do not have to learn anymore.” Thus, learning these skills will continue as long as you are in a work environment – but you also have a lot of time to develop expertise

Resources to help you develop these important skills

Leadership resources at Mount Sinai 
Junior Faculty LEAD Program
MS in Healthcare Delivery Leadership 
If you use Twitter, the Mount Sinai LEAD program has an active Twitter account where they post resources relevant to leadership development

Leadership resources from other organizations
Assertiveness – Speaking Up in the Lab and in Life NIH Handout 

Resilience – NIH Webinar 

Books on leadership for those interested in a deeper dive into leadership
Type Talk at Work, by O. Kroeger and H. Rutledge
Many books by the Center for Creative Leadership: http://www.ccl.org/leadership/index.aspx
Do What You Are, by Tieger and Barron
Manager’s Toolkit, by Harvard Business Press
Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone and Bruce Patton
Thanks for the Feedback, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny
Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively, by Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan
People Styles at Work…And Beyond: Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better, by Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton
Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves