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Embracing the New Era of Leadership

To thrive in today's workplace, laboratory leaders must cultivate a growth mindset and subscribe to continuous learning

Lauren Everett

Lauren Everett is the managing editor for Lab Manager. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from SUNY New Paltz and has more than a decade of experience in news...

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As the demands on laboratory leaders continue to grow, technical proficiency alone is no longer sufficient for success. A successful modern-day lab manager must now adopt a values-based approach to leadership, understand the unique needs of their diverse staff, navigate different personality styles, manage multi-generational teams, and foster meaningful relationships with influential stakeholders throughout the organization. Tywauna Wilson, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM, is an accomplished laboratory leader, author, podcast host, and coach. She is also the founder and president of Trendy Elite Coaching and Consulting. Here, she shares her insights and advice on successful leadership and management based on her 20 years of diverse lab experience. 

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Q: Can you briefly share about your career progression and why you chose to start Trendy Elite Coaching and Consulting?

A: My journey in the clinical laboratory began in 2004 when I served as a generalist in a high-volume reference laboratory. This role served as a solid foundation for subsequent positions, including my promotion to a hospital laboratory manager within just five years—a remarkable achievement at the time. Over the past two decades, I have served in various diverse leadership roles with the most recent being system chemistry director for a regional clinical lab where I provide strategic planning, standardization, implementation, and collaboration across 10 laboratory sites.

I started Trendy Elite Coaching and Consulting because I got tired of seeing good people get passed over for supervisory roles because they did not have a strong leadership base. I knew I had to use my diverse leadership experience to help others develop the essential skills and competencies to be successful and thrive in today’s workforce. Through the firm’s Standout Leader Academy, coaching programs, and leadership training initiatives, my mission is to connect organizations with a diverse range of skilled personnel, enabling them to navigate this new era of leadership with prepared, confident, and competent talent. 

Q: What are some of the key skills that a laboratory manager needs to effectively run their teams and labs today?

A: Strong leadership and communication skills are essential for managers to effectively lead their teams. A laboratory manager must be able to set clear goals, clearly communicate expectations, provide guidance, and motivate their team toward achieving their goals. This also includes technical proficiency at a high level to understand the work being done by the team to be able to analyze the complete picture to make strategic decisions.

Problem solving and decision-making skills are necessary to address known and unforeseen challenges that often arise in the laboratory, especially when there is short staffing, instrument failures, or inventory shortages. Managers should be adaptable and open to new approaches, encouraging their teams to think critically, and seek innovative solutions.

"Lab leaders should focus on building relationships with their team members, understanding their strengths, and actively involving them in decision-making processes."

Organizational and time management skills are also vital to ensure that procedures, projects, and resources are effectively managed, coordinated, and proper schedules are put in place to meet necessary deadlines. 

Q: What methods, trainings, or resources can managers look into as a starting point to enhancing these key skills?

A: Managers seeking to enhance their skills can explore various methods and resources. Attending workshops or training sessions (in person or virtual) specifically tailored to managing diverse teams, new leader development, building emotional intelligence, etc. can provide valuable insights and strategies. Mentoring programs (both within the organization and externally), coaching, or guidance from experienced managers in the laboratory or similar fields can offer practical advice and support. Online resources such as articles, books, webinars, on-demand courses, and podcasts offer a convenient way for managers to continuously learn and stay updated on the latest trends and techniques in laboratory management. Lastly, networking with other professionals in the field by attending industry conferences and joining professional associations can provide opportunities to learn from and exchange best practices with peers facing similar challenges.

Q: How have you seen laboratory leadership evolve these last few years? 

A: Advancements in technology and the increasing focus on data-driven decision-making has transformed the traditional role of a lab manager. Today's lab manager roles have expanded beyond managing scientists, equipment, and processes to now encompassing navigating the complexities of AI, robotics, and technology integration in the lab. Traditional lab management practices have been integrated with cutting-edge technologies to streamline processes, enhance efficiency, and improve accuracy. The introduction of robotics has automated repetitive tasks such as sample processing and AI-powered tools that aids scientists in reading differentials, allows lab managers to allocate resources more strategically and foster innovation within their teams. 

"One of the biggest lessons that I learned early in my career is understanding that leadership and management are not the same."

Lab managers must stay up to date with the latest advancements and ensure that their teams are equipped with the necessary skills and resources to adapt to these changes. Additionally, the growing importance of cross-functional collaboration has pushed lab managers to become effective communicators and facilitators, fostering strong relationships not only within their team but also with other departments and stakeholders. 

Q: What advice do you have for managers who are leading multi-generational teams?

A: Leading multigenerational teams requires managers to recognize and appreciate the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives of each team member. Each generation brings distinct strengths and viewpoints to the table. The following tips have helped me navigate and be successful with diverse teams. 

  1.  Foster open communication and create an inclusive environment where everyone's perspectives are valued. This can be done with regular team meetings (one on one or as a group). 
  2. Leverage the strengths of each generation. There is power in recognizing that different age groups bring different experiences and skills to the table. Managers can create opportunities for mentorship and knowledge sharing, which can help bridge the generation gap and promote collaboration.
  3. Remain flexible and adaptable. There will be different work preferences, communication styles, readiness to embrace innovative technologies. You may have to apply different techniques and feedback strategies to create an environment that is inclusive and equitable for all team members to bridge generational gaps and streamline team collaboration.

Book Resource: Tim Elmore’s A New Kind of Diversity: Making the Different Generations on Your Team a Competitive Advantage is a great tool for leaders managing diverse teams in the workplace. 

Q: What is a common issue or mistake you see among new lab leaders trying to establish authority in their new role? How can new leaders avoid this mistake?

A: A common mistake new lab leaders make when trying to build their influence with their team is solely relying on their position and title. The title may grant you positional authority, but it will not grant you true leadership, influence, or inspiration with your team. In John C. Maxell’s 5 Levels of Leadership framework, the first level of leadership is positional. John describes this as people following the leader because they have to therefore the influence of the leader will not expand beyond the stated job description. Having a higher title over someone, more years of experience, or a higher level of technical ability does not automatically give you authority over your team. This mindset often leads to negative perception, distrust, and eventually turnover amongst the team. 

To avoid this mistake, lab leaders should focus on building relationships with their team members, understanding their strengths, and actively involving them in decision-making processes. Take time to round with your team, subscribe to an open-door policy, and be visible to your team. By doing so, you will gain their trust and respect, which will serve as a solid foundation for your authority. This will allow you to move from positional leader to people developer and leadership multiplier. 

Q: What is the biggest lesson about leadership and management that you have learned during your career?

A: One of the biggest lessons that I learned early in my career is understanding that leadership and management are not the same. Being a good manager does not automatically make you a good leader and vice versa. While management focuses on the operational aspects of running a lab, such as planning and organizing resources, leadership goes beyond the tasks and focuses on the people development. 

When I first transitioned from the bench to a manager role, I thought the same task-based skills that allowed me to be great as an individual contributor on the bench would be the same skills that would allow me to excel as a manager and leader of my team. Having strong task-related skills were great for managing processes but not being a good people leader. Effective laboratory leaders inspire and motivate their team members, foster a culture of innovation and collaboration, and provide guidance and support to unlock their team's full potential. I learned that laboratory managers have to strike a balance between efficient process management and effective leadership. You have to possess technical expertise (hard skills) but also must have strong interpersonal skills (soft skills) to have strong management and leadership ability.  

Anything else to add?

A: To thrive in today's workplace, laboratory leaders must cultivate a growth mindset and subscribe to continuous learning. By investing in professional development, building a strong professional network, and seeking mentorship opportunities, laboratory leaders can continuously enhance their skills and keep up with the demands of the dynamic laboratory landscape. The industry is constantly evolving, and leaders must be willing to challenge the status quo, seek new opportunities, and to embrace innovation.

Tywauna Wilson is featured as the keynote speaker at the 2024 Lab Manager Leadership Summit, taking place April 29-May 1 in Denver, CO. This flagship event is dedicated to lab professionals who are eager to boost their skills and advance their careers. Learn more and register at: