Characteristics of an effective leader
A leadership role comes with a lot of responsibilities. In a lab environment, the leader is not only responsible for ensuring scientific excellence, but must also be aware of the dynamics among the team and address any people issues that arise.
Leadership, not to be confused with management, is all about the people. The most effective leaders have a set of skills and traits that their staff respect and appreciate. Some of those skills and traits include being a humble leader, an active listener, and an honest communicator. If you don’t possess these traits or put in the work to improve them, you will likely have a difficult time achieving success on the business management side of leading a lab.
Employee recruitment and teambuilding
Part of being an effective leader is finding the right people to carry out the lab’s mission. When looking to hire new staff, it is important to evaluate a candidate’s strengths beyond their technical skills. Learn what motivates the candidate, what their goals are, how they approach challenges, whether they are a team player, and whether you feel confident in training them to be a future leader. As Tom Peters says, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.”
Small-scale labs with limited resources and budget can still attract top candidates. Employees, now more than ever, are looking for jobs with a positive work culture and benefits beyond a high-paying salary. Demonstrating that you, as the leader, genuinely care about your staff and make an effort to create a positive work culture will help you stand out among the rest.
If you have a strong, collaborative, and diverse team, then you will see positive improvements in the overall culture in the lab. Scientists will better understand their role in reaching organizational goals, which contribute to the overall mission and success. Staff members will also feel more motivated to work at their peak performance, voice new ideas, and share any issues with the manager.
A positive lab culture also reduces the need for lab leaders to feel like they need to micromanage. Leaders need to show that they trust their staff to do the work they have been tasked with. Scientists are naturally curious, and natural problem solvers. Allow your team the space it needs to get things done without micromanaging.
However, this doesn’t mean that accountability isn’t important. Part of being an effective leader is getting comfortable with having difficult discussions with poor performers. Everyone on the team should know that there are consequences for poor performance.
Improving productivity and innovation
A key sign of effective leadership is the generation of innovative ideas. Innovation is the foundation of scientific discoveries. There are clear actions lab managers can take to improve their lab’s ability to innovate, such as carving out time for staff to regularly collaborate, brainstorm, and constructively debate. Creative thinking leads to creative solutions.
To follow through on innovative ideas, lab managers need to provide the proper tools and resources to their staff. At a minimum, scientists need the appropriate scientific equipment, instruments, and supplies to do innovative science. Additional tools may include advanced software and modeling to improve organization, eliminate pain points during experiments, or improve data recording and analysis.
Leaders of the lab should stay up-to-date on the latest product and software options, and know to effectively advocate for necessary investments.
Being an effective leader is not an easy task, and it doesn't happen overnight. Regardless of experience level, leaders can always learn something new and discover new ways to improve their leadership skills. Getting input and help from staff isn’t a sign of weakness; rather, it shows that you value your team and their contributions to the organization’s success. Continue to explore the rest of this series for more in-depth guidance on the different components of lab leadership.