I have written before about Daniel Goleman’s analysis of leadership styles [see ‘Clueless on leadership style‘ on June 14th, 2017]; to implement these styles, he identifies, four competencies you require: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Once again, I am involved in teaching helping people develop these competencies through our Science & Technology Leadership CPD programme for aspiring leaders in Research & Development [R&D]. As part of the module on Science Leadership and Ethics we have asked our delegates to write a short essay reflecting on the ethics of one or two real events and, either from experience or vicariously, on the leadership associated with them. Our delegates find this challenging, especially the reflective aspect which is designed to induce them to think about their self, their feelings and their reactions to events. They are technologists who are used to writing objectively in technical reports and the concept of writing about the inner workings of their mind is alien to them.
Apparently, the author Peter Carey compared writing to ‘wading in the flooded basement of my mind’ and, to stretch the analogy, I suspect that our delegates are worried about getting out of their depth or perhaps they haven’t found the stairs to the basement yet. We try to help by providing a map in the form of the flowchart in the thumbnail together with the references below. Nevertheless, this assignment remains an exercise that most undertake by standing at the top of the stairs with a weak flashlight and that few both get their feet wet and tell us what they find in the basement.
I was in Zürich last weekend. We visited the Fraumünster with its magnificent stained glass windows by Marc Chagall [see my post entitled ‘I and the village‘ on August 14th, 2013] and by Augusto Giacometti (1877-1947). The Kunsthaus Zürich has a large collection of sculptures by another Giacometti, Alberto (1901-1966), a Swiss sculptor, who is famous for his slender statues of people which portray individuals alone in the world. He was part of the existentialist movement in modern art that examined ideas about self-consciousness and our relationship to other people. For me, this echoed a lecture that I contributed last week to a module on Scientific Impact and Reputation as part of our CPD programme [see my post entitled ‘WOW projects, TED talks and indirect reciprocity‘ on August 31st, 2016. In the lecture, I talked about our relationship with other professional people and the development of our technical reputation in their eyes as a result of altruistic sharing of knowledge. This involves communicating with others, building relationships and understanding our place in the community. The post-course assignment is to write a reflective essay on leadership and technical quality; and we know, from past experience, that our delegates will find it difficult to reflect on their experiences and the impact of those experiences on their life and behaviour. Maybe we should help them by including a viewing of existential art in one of the Liverpool art galleries as part of our CPD programme on Science and Technology Leadership?
Last week I attended a one-day workshop for PhD students sponsored by Airbus. Most of the students produced a poster describing their research; and a dozen brave ones gave a three-minute presentation on their PhD thesis. It’s a challenge to describe three years of research in three minutes to an audience that are not experts in your specialist field. However, the result was an exciting and stimulating morning covering subjects as diverse as multidisciplinary design optimization and cognitive sources of ethical behaviour in business. The latter was presented by Solenne Avet who was the only woman amongst the twelve three-minute thesis presenters. The gender diversity was better for the other, longer talks with two women out of six presenters. Interestingly, the female PhD students were the only ones tackling the interaction between engineering and human behaviour, including system-human communication, collective engineering work and innovation processes, which I have suggested is essential for viable engineering solutions to our global and societal challenges [see my post ‘Re-engineering engineering’ on August 30th, 2017]. This population sample is too small to make a reliable generalization; however, it suggests that a gender-balanced engineering profession would be more likely to succeed in making substantial contributions to our current challenges [see UN Global Issues Overview].
Strategic leadership is widely defined as the ability to influence others to voluntarily make decisions that enhance the prospects of the organisation’s success. In learning and teaching, you could substitute or supplement organisation’s success with the students’ success. I believe that this is achieved by creating an environment in which your colleagues can thrive and contribute; so, I see leadership of an academic community as being primarily a service involving the creation and maintenance of a culture of scholarship and excellence.
I have led academic departments on both sides of the Atlantic, university-industrial research programmes and various other organisations and initiatives. However, the standard interview question about my leadership style still tends to stump me – I struggle to identify a consistent approach to my leadership and I am nervous that too much analysis could undermine my ability to lead. However, by chance, I recently came across Daniel Goleman’s work. His research has shown that the use of a collection of leadership styles (he identifies six styles), each at the right time and in the right amount, produces the most effective outcomes. In other words, effective leadership is about being pragmatic and adjusting your approach to suit the circumstances. What’s more, Goleman found that most successful business leaders who followed this pragmatic approach had no idea how they selected the right style for the right time.
Goleman’s work implies that you do not have to conform to one leadership model. Instead, you can roam across a number of leadership styles and select the right one, for the right situation and use it in just the right amount. It sounds straightforward but this flexibility is tough to put into action. Of course, that’s not easy to teach because most of us don’t know how or why we make those decisions but it is related to emotional intelligence and leadership competencies, which we do know how to teach.
Goleman D, Boyatzis R & McKee, The new leaders: transforming the art of leadership into the science of results, London: Sphere, 2002.