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Leadership: Keeping the Focus on Innovation

What helped you prepare for leadership?

My first manager told me something that has set the base for my views on leadership: “Your job is to make sure that we do not need you anymore in this position so you can progress quickly if you choose to – it is up to you to organize your future path.” 

It is my belief that encouraging people to find their own path to deliver success leads to a positive outcome for the entire team. I discuss with members of my team the priorities as they see them, rather than mapping out priorities on their behalf! I often share with my team the inspiring examples I’ve picked up from great managers I’ve had throughout my career.

Providing clear direction is essential, while encouraging individuals to determine their own path towards their end goal. Every team member contributes a valuable, unique perspective to every challenge. Bringing multi-disciplinary skills and expertise together allows us to unravel complex challenges and make decisions that determine the solutions we offer to our customers.  

Are leaders born – or do you think leadership skills can be learned? 

The question of whether leadership is innate or taught has been a topic of debate for some time. According to some experts, leadership is a combination of both innate qualities and skills that can be developed through education, training, mentorship, and experience.

Inherent qualities such as certain personality traits may give individuals a natural predisposition towards leadership. Traits such as self-confidence, empathy, communication skills, and the ability to inspire and motivate others can certainly help. 

Ultimately, successful leadership often requires a combination of both intrinsic qualities and learned skills. While some individuals may have natural leadership qualities, anyone with a desire to be in a leadership role can improve their leadership abilities through continuous personal and professional development and, of course, having an effective manager or leader to support them!

What specific skills do leaders need to drive innovation?

Leaders need to be able to see opportunities and issues before they present themselves. It’s not about a great spreadsheet or numbers. Instead, strategic discussions must probe whether something is interesting enough for a team to invest more time in. 

All leaders must be able to facilitate effective communication and cooperation between people and teams so that different departments can work together synergistically.

Good leaders can think ahead of the curve, stay calm, and be flexible enough to provide an optimal work environment that encourages innovation.

How do you go about building a team that is geared towards innovation?

It’s all about taking small steps; testing if a new product or solution works and adapting if necessary.

Our innovation team is a merger of four teams: the R&D, pilot, application, and science teams. To function optimally as one team, we have a common mission; everyone needs to understand what innovation looks like and what their roles are to deliver it. I believe that very interesting things happen at interfaces. For instance, the R&D team working with the science team. Our science team is focused on clinical studies, whereas the R&D team is more focused on developing products. They synergize well together and have made some exciting things happen! 

I think freedom is also very important. Whenever I am recruiting, I make it clear that there is a lot of freedom and flexibility in the role, but there is also an expectation to deliver. Most people think this sounds great, but some people prefer more structure. Encouraging people to work towards goals or outputs without a structured guide can lead to excellent and interesting ideas, but it can also present a challenge. 

To innovate, we need people to think conceptually. For some people, being able to design and talk about concepts, without hard proof, can be a challenge. Some scientists are very black and white in their thinking, but innovation can be more of a grey area. With every study or research project, there are more questions. There are facts and data, but there will always be more unknowns to address. A good leader must be able to handle that difference and be able to explain the direction to non-conceptual thinkers. 

Do you think women in science face additional obstacles compared to men?

Science is an excellent career choice for both men and women. I think it’s incredibly important to create supportive work environments, promote diversity in leadership positions, and provide opportunities to share knowledge and expertise. 

Combining motherhood and a steep career path was challenging, but I have not felt this has had a negative impact on my progression. I feel that having a family and juggling a career has helped me to be more empathetic and understanding, and to make clear, forward-thinking decisions. Being decisive while also taking a people-centric approach is incredibly helpful in business.

In my opinion, leadership is about giving purpose and direction to everyone so we can work together to achieve a clear goal. 

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About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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