Besides grant submissions (fun!), I spent quite some time reading about leadership the last few weeks. Most books I looked at were written for the business world, and yes, there are fundamental differences to academia, but still I found my reading surprisingly helpful.
My interest was triggered by my repeated observation that students and postdocs can struggle quite a bit to take initiative and see a project through. On many days, it felt like that I am the hub of our research enterprise and that everything needs my input. This observation caused me to reflect on my leadership style. What I have learned in my reading is that I need to focus more on teaching my trainees how to be leaders themselves. Only If I teach and demonstrate how to be a good leader, and foster and reward leadership, we will truly excel. Technical knowledge can be documented, learned from peers and collaborators, gobbled up in excellent courses and summer schools, however, the one unique thing that I can bring to the table is my experience of building and developing research groups and companies. I can share and teach the lessons I have learned when I was trying to get projects off the ground, steer projects through difficult periods, and get projects completed. There are many aspects of excellent leadership from the very practical (how to organize your day, how to plan projects) to the almost philosophical (how to energize your team). My theory is that if I can teach these skills, my trainees will feel more in charge, require less hand-holding for the daily business of science, be more successful and own their success, and ultimately be much better prepared for whatever comes as a next step in their career.
Clearly, I have a lot to learn myself as I am working on growing and improving as a leader. I will keep you posted on our progress here, hopefully at a more regular interval than the last few hectic months. I hope my observations inspire you to grow and develop. Once we stop questioning who we are and how we can do our job better, life gets very boring!