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Perspectives in Leadership

By Scott Braxton, Ph.D., MBA

Think back to a time when you were thrilled to follow someone. It may be a mentor, it may be your father, it may by your CEO or a great teacher. For me it was the CEO of my second job after my postdoctoral training. I had moved companies to follow my dream and was now the director of research for a small biotech company. I was perfect for them because my experience would help them solve critical problems.

I had a lot of frank conversations with the CEO about the company, where we were heading and how we were going to get there. One conversation is vividly etched into my mind. I had been there about 11 months when we got a takeover offer from the company I had just left. I didn’t think it was a good idea, since I knew the leadership and how they did things and I thought we would have a much brighter future staying independent.

Dari, my CEO asked me for my input and opinions. Then he asked me what I would do if threatened by a lawsuit from a rival. When I saw how much information he was working with and how carefully he had weighed the options, I felt confident in his direction. I knew what he stood for. He had given me tremendous opportunity to contribute. He made me feel enabled and empowered to do my work.

What are the characteristics you need in order to be able to follow a leader? In my opinion, people must feel

  • Confidence in the direction
  • Enabled and empowered to maximally contribute
Therefore, leaders must:
  • Be Trustworthy
    • Open and congruent
    • Supportive
    • Reliable
    • Allows room for people to grow (make mistakes)
  • Be Accountable
  • Clearly communicate
  • Excite and enroll
  • Provide vision
    • Vision: Defines where the organization wants to be in the future. It reflects the optimistic view of the organization's future.
  • Defined mission and goals
    • Mission: Defines where the organization is going now, and how the organization will accomplish its goals.
    • Goals: specific, time bound statements of intended future results
  • Communicate Clear Purpose: The fundamental reason to exist, the main value upon which the company is founded (e.g. Discovery, Excellence, Altruism, Heroism)
  • Have clear values
    • Values are what we think are important: Main values protected by the organization during the progression, reflecting the organization's culture and priorities.

So in a real way, everyone is a follower and everyone is a leader. In the end, we sold the company for $80 M. We did get sued by the rival, but now had deeper pockets with which to defend (a lawsuit would have shut down our little company). I got to lead the transition team for research and business development, wrote the business plan for a new industry and the rest is history. I am so glad I had a leader I could look up to and trust. Bonus Secret—It was actually up to me to trust Dari since I am responsible for my emotional state and the meaning I add to everything. He made is significantly more easy by who he was being and how he communicated. If I couldn’t generate the trust and confidence, it is up to me to leave. It is his “Bullet Train” and my job is to support him.

Of course, I also need to look out for myself, so it’s a great balancing act—to be balanced is a great place to be. You may find that this is the perfect place to come from in a marriage or partnership. You know yourself, know what you need and also focused on the other person and what they need. You supply it according to your principles and values without sacrificing yourself.
But, this is another topic.