Science Breakfast: Decoding Science Leadership: What Matters in Leading Innovative Labs, Leading Great People, Leading Self

Hosted by McKinsey & Company, Inc.


Abstract

Telling CEOs these days that leadership drives performance is a bit like saying that oxygen is necessary to breathe. Over 90 percent of CEOs are already planning to increase investment in leadership development because they see it as the single most important human-capital issue their organizations face. Leadership is about mobilizing groups of individuals – and by doing so creating exceptional value beyond what individuals can achieve – towards solving difficult problems and the achievement of a goal.
In science, the importance of individual excellence is well known and documented, in fact at times combined with the prejudice that most scientists act alone or in very small teams. At the same time, however, most scientific fields have become highly multidisciplinary and new technological opportunities are continuously emerging further, offering unprecedented opportunities (e.g., cell-based approaches in medicine; DNA-based approaches in computing; 3D printing). Hence, our work makes us believe that the same causality – leadership drives performance (innovation) – is truer than ever also in science.
More specifically, our experience from working with R&D leaders and their organizations across industries suggests that scientific excellence, focus, and cross-functional ways of working are important predictors of success. At lab level, not surprisingly, we have identified collaboration as a critical success factor, next to talent (Edwards et al., 2011). We have coined the term "scientific leadership" to describe what matters in sciences more than anywhere else – successful leaders need to have depth and master the science but, at the same time, be capable to motivate and mobilize ever more cross-functional teams to overcome the important scientific challenges of our time.
As if this would not be difficult enough, today's volatile environment is providing science leaders challenges unseen in history. Science leaders are facing an unprecedented set of opportunities, increasingly deep but also hard-to-interpret insights into the science of disease mechanisms, at times overwhelming richness of knowledge and a 24/7 information flow that is hard to master by any single human individual, and, lastly, an ever more global and connected world, also between industry and academia.
In summary, we believe that mastering "scientific leadership" is becoming an extremely important capability in the 21st century, both in academia and in industry. It becomes relevant for today's students, post-docs/researchers, but also scientists and leaders in industry. This begs the question of how one can understand, let alone acquire such leadership skills. Decoding what leadership skills matter is a good first step – our initial research has isolated solving problems effectively, operating with strong results orientation, seeking different perspectives, and supporting others as four critical traits.
It will benefit the progress of science if we can facilitate the dialog between highly experienced and senior science leaders – reflecting on their path to success – young researchers, and successful business leaders – to sharpen this emerging perspective further and understand how to best help future leaders in developing these capabilities. We aim to advance this dialog that has started at the last Lindau meeting as it has the potential to derive learnings that can equip the next generation of science leaders with what it takes to be successful in the 21st century.

References
1 – The State of Human Capital 2012—False Summit: Why the Human Capital Function Still Has Far to Go, a joint report from The Conference Board and McKinsey, October 2012, mckinsey.com.
2 – Michael Edwards et al. "Managing the health of early-stage discovery"; Nature Drug Discovery Reviews; Vol. 12 (page 171f.), March 2011
3 – Decoding leadership: What really matters – McKinsey Quarterly, January 2015, mckinsey.com
4 – McKinsey experiences in biopharmaceutical R&D, including relevant publications at
http://www.mckinsey.com/client_service/pharmaceuticals_and_medical_products/expertise/research_and_development



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