Science and Technology-based organizations demand different styles of leadership especially as investors flock to what has shown to be a major motivator in our knowledge-based economy. The unique challenges of leading Science and Technology-based businesses require innovative management training models. Developing leaders in science and technology-based environments is relatively uncharted territory with a poor track record of success. How then should leadership experts work with these organizations to transform top scientists into managerial leaders for tomorrow? After spending the past 35 years managing scientists and engineers at the project, division and corporate level; and then teaching leadership development for the past ten years I believe there is a way.

What you are dealing with are highly intelligent, motivated individuals whose aspirations are rarely aligned with organizational goals. Spending time with key scientists and engineers on how they can add value and leverage to an organization while achieving their personal goals is the key success factor”.

The problem with developing leaders in highly technical and scientific fields lies within the very culture and language in which they work. These are people who are independent thinkers and highly analytical who support initiatives that are evidence based. Typical motivational workshops with vague leadership concepts and business language have the opposite effect. Theories for leadership growth beyond themselves may be hard to grasp as they are always looking for rationalities in systematic feedback. Their definition of success is based strictly on personal achievement. When they assume a management position, they often continue to be motivated by individual achievement even though they are now responsible for the success of their team. This often leads to a lack of delegation and/or micromanagement that stifles technical team members.

So how do we get scientists and engineers to understand how to effectively interact across a company or a corporation? Bridge the gap between a business and a science culture? The earlier that we can shift their mindsets to ‘we’ as opposed to ‘me’, the better chance they have at developing their leadership skillset. They need to know why teamwork is critical and more importantly how to actually do it with examples and anecdotes taken from real technical situations in a language they feel comfortable. This is a lifelong learning process, so incorporating leadership fundamentals early in their careers is crucial. This includes the critical teamwork skills such as writing compelling proposals, managing technically complex projects, and supervising staff on project work”.

I have been working for over two decades now helping to develop tomorrow’s science and technology-based leaders with a framework that I have labeled the Performance Trilogy®. (Link to blog #2 and 5) The framework is straightforward and resonates with highly technical staff. Of all the myriad of activities on a staff’s to-do list, there are three specific processes that stand out from the rest and need to be mastered; strategy, execution and leadership development. Nowhere in a scientist’s or engineer’s education and training are these processes learned”

1. Strategy: Leading from the front

In the first stage of any initiative, it is important for scientist and engineer managers to develop a winning strategy for what they wish to accomplish and communicate that effectively with their teams. The strategy must be compelling backed up with substantial data. Scientists and engineers are highly intelligent and focused on hard evidence, so it is important to provide the strongest proof that a new program or initiative has staying power. It is here that communication skills become key. The benefits to articulating the strategy; getting honest feedback; and building team trust must be learned to be appreciated. Examples here help a lot.

2. Execution: Leading from the middle

Once the strategy has been developed and communicated effectively, the technical managers will then need to translate the strategy into key actionable objectives and work closely with their team during execution. This does not mean micromanagement or for that matter absentee management, but active governance and support to ensure that the key objectives are being met. Learning how to effectively delegate requires practice and experiential learning to develop confidence in the knowledge that the team below them are committed to the task at hand and capable of moving forward. Once again, case studies and examples taken from problems experienced in a technical setting is key to learning.

3. Leadership Development: Leading from behind

Once the strategy has been translated and effectively delegated, technical managers must then take on the role of player-coach to develop and support their team while also being involved in the technology. They must build awareness and understand that it is no longer about them, but about the success of the organization. Because of the self-focused goals scientists and engineers tend to have, it is important to align individual career aspirations to those of the company as a whole. Learning how to balance the needs of the individual with that or the organization during the performance planning and review process is critical.

Only when a manager gets to the state in which they truly care about the success of their team are they really leading from behind and worthy of a teams’ trust. Through increased self-awareness and aligning their overall individual goals to those of their team and organization, scientists and engineers can be highly effective in their newfound managerial role. It’s actually a beautiful thing to watch unfold once they get it.

Strategic leadership is a key focus area for life sciences and technology companies seeking to develop their individual contributors into leaders, managers, executives and visionaries. The role of science and technology-based companies has continued to grow, and organizations rely increasingly on the development of their current employees for the sake of tomorrow’s success. Improving the performance of key scientists and engineers in a technology-based organization can have a significant impact on company performance and is worth the investment.

Graffeo and Associates is an organization committed to improving the quality of leadership in science and technology (S&T). It was formed in 2008 around the expertise of Dr. Tony Graffeo, a senior executive from Arthur D. Little and Battelle Memorial Institute. Dr. Graffeo has consulted with leading research institutions in the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, and has created a codified system of leadership development centered around the principles of the Performance Trilogy® which he has taught throughout the world. He is currently a professor at Northeastern University teaching Professional Masters entrepreneurship and leadership courses. His new book, titled “Leading Science & Technology-Based Organizations: Mastering the Fundamentals of Personal, Managerial, and Executive Leadership” will be published in 2018.