Director’s Blog 3/22/19

Director’s Blog March 22, 2019
By Ian Billick, PhD

RMBL’s Board Leadership has been talking about who might be our future scientific leaders. The term “leadership”is so heavily used at times that the it can lose meaning. However, I think that leadership matters a great deal and that RMBL’s future largely depends upon our ability to find and develop great scientific leaders.

Friends from the business world who think about leadership tell me that people must be smart and have technical skills to get a leadership job, but emotional intelligence drives success. I love Daniel Goleman’s 1998 paper in the Harvard Business Review “What Makes a Great Leader”. His team found that emotional intelligence (selfawareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill) explained 90% of the difference in objective measures of performance relative to IQ and skills.

Having watched the career paths of many younger scientists, I suspect a study of scientists might generate similar results. Sheer intelligence and the expertise to develop or implement cutting edge techniques might be more important in the sciences. But as research becomes more collaborative and team-focused, the value of emotional intelligence grows. I can’t help but think if only 1 out of 10 very strong NSF proposals is funded, individuals who are recognized by their peers as strong community members get a boost (whether that is good for science is another matter).

My personal definition of leadership is that it is the ability to effectively focus the right people on the right issues at the right time. In the face of too much to do, leaders do a good job of framing issues and prioritizing time. People can be tempted to grab on to a personally appealing topic and focus on being “right”. But being right often just gets in the way. A good leader focuses on driving an outcome that will benefit the community.

What should you do if you want to grow into being a scientific leader (both for your career and to have an impact on RMBL)? Goleman argues that emotional intelligence can be learned. One of my other favorite thinkers, Daniel Kahneman (if you are feeling bold, read his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” or if you have less head space, try Michael Lewis’ “The Undoing Project”) argues that the best performance of job performance is job performance.
Let us know if you would like to develop leadership skills at RMBL. We have committees, volunteer positions, and plenty of projects in which we can use assistance. Be just as thoughtful and creative in these positions as you are in your science. Get external feedback from people you trust and be honest with yourself about your performance. Find mentors/coaches who can help you grow. Most importantly, take leadership roles in which you can both fail in interesting ways and make great things happen!

Email me if you want a copy of the Goleman paper, or want to be more involved. We need to cultivate the next generation of scientific leaders, not just for RMBL, but because science needs to lead society forward.