There is no doubt about it. Managing teams of scientists, engineers, researchers and technical people can be a special sort of challenge. They are generally highly intelligent, highly educated and value knowledge and ‘hard’ skills, so much so at times that the soft skills of conflict management, relationship building and communication are looked upon with suspicion. A further complication is that the managers of technical people are often themselves cut from that same skeptical cloth. How can we effectively approach leadership in such a situation?
Alice M. Sapienza has studied the leadership of scientists for decades and takes a scientific approach to the problem. In her book, Managing Scientists, she decribes the skill sets and strategies that work best. One of the most interesting insights is how effective the scientific approach can be for learning leadership. The approach consists of a simple, step by step approach to a leadership challenge:
•As a leader, start with a hypothesis. What is happening here and how should I approach it?
•Test your hypothesis. What are the assumptions I am making about the people? About the team or organization? About the variables? What’s the confirming and disconfirming evidence?
•Reflect on the root causes of problems.
•Identify interventions and try them out.
•Monitor outcomes and get candid feedback.
If you keep a journal of your learning, you can become even more effective as a leader. A systematic and deliberate approach to leadership learning, like science, makes all the difference.