Leadership: look for leaders with fire in their belly and emotional intelligence

Pierre-Alain Clavien and Joseph Deiss in Nature:

ChairThe academic world has changed greatly in recent decades, so demands on its leaders have too. Departmental chairs, deans, facility directors and other leaders are now expected to power research, attract funding, manage investments, engage with policy-makers, woo the media and train personnel. Finding people who can manage these demands simultaneously is difficult. Botched appointments are costly — intellectually, emotionally and financially — for universities, students, research and sometimes for hospitals and patients too. Surprisingly, there is little data on the selection processes of academic chairs1, 2.

Here, we relate a recent exercise in selecting a chair for a position in clinical academic medicine that in our view holds lessons for the appointment of science leaders more generally. Through a formal consensus process involving leaders from industry, policy and academia, we have distilled a set of principles — telegraphed here (see ‘Checklist for high-level hiring’) — for making high-level hires. Although many seem unsurprising, they are too often ignored.

Seek strong emotional, personal and social skills. Leaders need to be highly intelligent in communication and relationship-building to support and motivate interdisciplinary teams, convey integrity, adapt to change9 and to empathize with patients. This feature cannot be compensated for by other qualities. People succeed when they treat the individuals around them well.

Find someone with fire in their belly and stoke it. Chairs need to be ready to fight for their academic mission and to identify strategies to minimize the administrative burden imposed on them and their academic colleagues. The passion of a new chair should be maintained by academic freedom, good infrastructure and room for development. These factors are much more important than salary benefits in attracting — and keeping — highly qualified individuals.

More here.