Leading as a Scientist

As a leader have you ever thought about the distinction between being IN authority and being AN authority?

We’re scientists, right? We’re expected to be AN authority on something. Coming out of your PhD did you ever hit that realization that you were now a world authority on your particular tiny little subject? It’s a bit of an ego buzz, eh?

This feeling of needing to be AN authority trips up many of us as we become leaders.

If you feel like you need to know as much, if not more, than those you are leading you are not going to get the best out of your team. Firstly, you’re leading other scientists or technical experts: they have their own areas in which they are the world authority. Secondly, you can’t know it all. And if your did know more than them (or worse acted like you did) they would feel redundant and unsatisfied in their role, and they wouldn’t respect you as a leader.

So stop needing to be AN authority.

Instead consider being IN authority. This is a state of being, or a presence that you project. You can hold authority without being a subject matter expert. In fact the higher you go up the leadership ladder the less helpful it is to be AN authority.

When you are IN authority you are comfortable with what you do and don’t know. This allows you to genuinely respect others’ knowledge and to allow them to be the expert in their area. This is hugely enabling. Your skill as leader is to draw out their expertise and weave it together with that of others in the team towards a common strategy. To do this you need to be comfortable and humble IN your authority.

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