By Jenny Blau, MD
A successful career in research requires an understanding of how to lead a successful team. On December 2, 2014, the NICHD Office of Education hosted a Leadership and Management course led by management scientist David M. Dilts, PhD, MBA, CPA, CMA. This highly interactive course introduced early-career fellows to the essence of leadership and management. Below are a few highlights from the course:
Good versus bad leader
The course began with small group brainstorming of what it means to be a good or bad leader. From our diverse personal experiences, we created a list of attributes for each category. Highlights of the “good leader” list included: demonstrating interest in others’ professional development, empathy, good communication skills, having a vision and strategy, and trusting others. In contrast, the “bad leader” list included: micromanaging, poor communication skills, publicly defaming, failing to listen, not being available, gossiping, withholding information, and not caring about the team members.
We captured the critical components of a good leader in the word “otherness” and summarized a bad leader as “selfish.” One group depicted these skills as the ability of a leader to communicate effectively to the team while reciprocally receiving team input—all while keeping the team working toward a common goal.
Committee versus team
Dr. Dilts next challenged us to distinguish between a team and a committee. While a committee has an assigned leader and individual accountability, it lacks a “shared destiny.” Committees discuss, decide, and delegate work but do not typically implement ideas, unlike a team. In a team, you will find both individual and mutual accountability. Members of a team have a “shared destiny.” They share collective work products, performance measures, and an ability to work toward a common goal. To have an effective team, a leader must:
- Establish a sense of purpose and urgency
- Select members for skill and potential, not personality
- Pay particular attention to actions
- Set clear rules of behavior
- Challenge members with fresh facts, information, and ideas
- Spend time together
- Use positive feedback, reward, and recognition
- Effectively communicate with one another
The course concluded with key elements of project management in a team environment. Dr. Dilts used the creation of a grant application as an example. The planning and execution of a grant application includes identifying the people who will be involved, what work needs to be completed, how much time each task will take, and who will do each task. A helpful exercise during the management process is to create a responsibility matrix known as a Gantt chart (example can be found at: http://www.gantt.com/). Some project managers even post the responsibility matrix publicly—because everyone knows the importance of social pressure! Someone also needs to take ownership over the Gantt chart, updating it as needed, so that the project is kept organized and moving forward. After all of these steps, a manager should never forget to celebrate the team’s accomplishments!
Overall, this course is an excellent introduction to good leadership attributes and provides a framework to shape our own leadership goals. Two books that Dr. Dilts recommends for additional learning are Tom Rath’s book Strengths Finder and—what Dr. Dilts called “the must-read leadership book”—Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive. I know I’ll be buying these for some non-science reading!