Leadership is one of those Holy Grail skills that all researchers aspire to develop but often struggle to demonstrate and give evidence of leadership experience on job applications or in interviews. There are lots of different ways to lead and just because you line manage someone, doesn’t mean you are acting as a leader. Other forms of leadership include; leading up (i.e. leading your supervisor, which in research is a very regular occurrence as you are the person who knows your research area as well as, if not better than your PI), self-leadership (which is self-explanatory and something researchers do on a daily basis) and lateral leadership which I want to cover below.
I’m currently participating in a Sheffield Leader course, which aside from the enjoyable session using Lego to construct a visual representation of a team I’m involved in (the person with the spear, you know who you are), one thing that really stuck with me is the idea of Lateral Leadership. I realised that this is the style of leadership that I regularly employ in my role to run many of the activities I’m involved in when they involve cross organisation resources. This is very similar to research collaboration where you don’t necessarily line manage the other researchers you collaborate with, but do need to lead and/or influence what they will be doing for the project.
On the course we were encouraged to use the model, collaborating via positive influence, when we approach a new project/challenge using the following steps:
- Identify opportunities where collaboration would add value.
- Map your network—the relationships on which to build collaboration.
- Assess the level of support of stakeholders in your opportunities for collaboration.
- Develop a strategy for influencing those stakeholders.
I found it incredibly useful to map out a new project I’m about to start work on (it might look a huge messy network to you (picture opposite), but it’s made things clearer in my mind). It covered the networks of people and resources that need to be involved, my relationships with those groups, what other stakeholders are involved and finally to develop a strategy to influence. I regularly use mind maps for projects but the focus has always been on the specific tasks I need to do, or that need doing, but this has been really useful to map out stakeholders and influences instead. In order to make a strategy of influence it’s helpful to think through the theory of personal styles of influence (Merrill and Reid, 1981), in order to allow you to consciously approach individuals in the most effective way for them. Some people are more motivated by facts to be influences others by people. Equally there is value for some people in having the space to ask questions where others prefer to share experiences. Some of the key questions to ask yourself when considering influence includes;
- How might your perception of the situation be different from them?
- What are their motivations?
- Do they differ in communication style to you?
- What experience/background does the person have that might also influence them?
I hope these tips I’ve recently picked up might help with your own leadership situations and for those of you who thought you don’t have leadership experience, that you’ve realised we are all leaders in one way, shape or form.