Moving From Science to Leadership

Posted  | 1 Comment(s)  |  by Paul Sniffin

Our firm recently encountered a situation that is all too common in the world of science and technology.  Our client had a history of recruiting and promoting the highest caliber scientists in the world.  Although these professionals were considered world class in their area of expertise, there were emerging concerns about their “softer” skills as they took on expanded responsibilities.

Often, managers and leaders in this kind of environment are initially recruited and promoted because of their technical expertise.  Getting noticed is all about mastering the technical components of the work. As they progress into more senior roles, technical excellence often fades in value relative to their ability to lead teams and develop people.  This transition is often a turbulent journey, yet obtaining these critical leadership skills is essential in achieving success.  The question is…how can organizations help to prepare these individuals as they move into leadership roles? 

For our client, an organizational assessment confirmed that this group, the next generation of leadership for the organization, needed to begin a significant shift to develop critical leadership skills.  These skills included making sound decisions, managing execution, motivating and developing others, and building collaborative teams and relationships. 

Following the assessment, a multi-phased curriculum was developed focusing primarily on the critical leadership competencies that these technical-based leaders needed – the ability to:

  • Acquire a strategic perspective of the long term impact of their decisions
  • Build cohesive teams with a willingness to seek opinions and collaboratively build consensus and supportive relationships (listening skills)
  • Develop talent and provide strong guidance, mentoring and coaching to build critical competencies of the team
  • Express their thoughts to a wider audience and clarifying expectations

The development of these leaders was facilitated through multiple sessions complemented with one-on-one coaching to support retention and utilization of the learned skills.  This initiative became the foundation for building a solid coaching capability and culture throughout the organization!  Investing time and resources to develop these “softer” capabilities within their leaders helped strengthen not only the commitment of their key employees to the organization but also the “bench strength” of the organization’s future leaders.

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  1. Anna Nalewany's avatar
    Anna Nalewany
    | Permalink
    A very interesting article about scientists. In my experience, the scientists I have known would continue to excel in science and I do not believe that training them to learn softer skills would actually be the most effective strategy for the organization.

    No one would suggest trying the opposite approach - training high functioning leaders with excellent emotional and leadership skills to excel at science.

    I think there is a limit to what training can accomplish.

    Anna Nalewany

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