The importance of leadership skills

Leadership training in academia and in particular in mathematics is something we don’t tend to discuss or think about that much until we are about to take on a leadership academic position and wished we could have had some formal training along the way rather than learn on the job. Taking the lead to develop ourselves as leaders and get the proper training is something that requires investment throughout our career. Whether you are a graduate student, postdoc, or a seasoned faculty it is never too early or too late to make this investment, be intentional on developing your leaderships skills in meaningful and effective ways, and optimize your success.

Initially, the leadership training is more seldom, but as you move upwards this should become more frequent and align with your career aspirations. While leadership training occurs as part of your service to the university and profession by serving on various committees, task forces, and panels, be mindful that what you put in in terms of your time investment and effort, as well as what you forgo in terms of research, personal, and family time does not balance what you get out in terms of training.

I naively thought that most leadership training would come from the multitude of service I have done over the years. Thus, I did not mind putting my research, personal, and family time aside for the sake of serving the profession and my university through an astonishing amount of service. I thought that the more I put into service the more I would develop as a leader and forgot to take my main advice of keeping things balanced and the law of diminishing returns that I was so familiar with as an economics and math double major at Wellesley College. However, at the end of this year I was forced to reflect on my leadership development and careers gains and was astonished to realize the rate of development through service versus formal training was not equivalent.

Thus, my goal for 2018 is to minimize my service in order to have time to invest in my development and career growth and to invest in formal training by either paying out of my own pocket to attend certain leadership training and academies or take the time to put forward multiple applications and request for funding and financial sponsorship. Make it your goal too to take advantage of structured and formal leadership training, such as development courses offered by your university and professional societies/organizations, including the Linton- Poodry SACNAS Leadership Institute, American Council Education (ACE) Leadership, the Berkeley Executive Leadership Program, HERS Institutes, Center for Creative Leadership, and Academic Impression Leadership.

Some leadership training is about time management, learning to negotiate effectively, mapping your career opportunities and learning the basics earlier on to be successful no matter what your long-term career trajectory is. Other leadership train is about finding your leadership style, shifting the culture at your institution or professional organization, having an executive presence, leading diverse and inclusive teams, and much more. In the remainder of this blog, I outline two topics that illustrate why investing in your leadership development is critical and applicable to everyone regardless of our career goals.

Time Management
Learning effective time management is key and while we all understand this, we often forget to use our calendar effectively to appropriately manage our time like a good leader. If we want to develop this skill we need to begin by making our calendar meaningful to us. Thus, we need to put every meeting and thing we need to do in our calendars, including our lunch time even if we are having lunch at our desk while we read some emails.

Part of including everything means that we don’t just tell people to come by your office unless we have them in our calendar. We don’t allow people who are not in our calendar take more than a couple of minutes of our time unless it is an emergency. If it is going to take longer than a couple of minutes we ask them what time would work for them and put them in our calendar. We even put our “To Do” list in our calendar with the appropriate time estimates/ slots for each item in our list. We need to make our “To Do” list part of our calendar if we are serious about getting things done and learning to manage our time.

In our calendar, we also need to block time that we don’t give to anyone, but rather time that is allocated just for ourselves and for the things that are important to us, this includes research, time to reflect on our progress/future goals, to unwind, exercise, and to spend with our partner, kids, pets, and friends. It is important to keep in mind that we need approximately an hour each day of downtime to unwind and refresh ourselves or 3-5 hours per week if you’d rather take a bigger chunk of time once per week. For example, part of my downtime includes painting once every 1-3 months and letting my artistic and creative side take over while my scientific side unwinds. Part of effective time management is to do the most important things earlier (otherwise if something unexpected comes up important things might get pushed down and they might not get done that day as planned). For this same reason, it is essential that we don’t leave important things to the end of the day.

Negotiating Effectively
Negotiating does not just occur when we are accepting a job offer and thus we need to learn to become better negotiators. From putting together various proposals, to launching a new idea or initiative at our university, to interacting effectively with our colleagues, to managing various roles, negotiating arises in all aspects of our career and it takes various forms. Developing this skill is critical in becoming an effective leader, but unfortunately it is often ignored and thought of as a skill needed when we are offered a new job.

Any request or ask can take the form of a negotiation and thus this request/ask must be presented in a way that shows it meets a need or moves forward a goal or solves a problem for our institution or the individual from whom we are making the request. Negotiation is often not a one-time deal and requires multiple conversations and actions on our part. We must follow up every negotiation meeting with emails and follow-up conversations. If our request has not been granted, we need to send emails periodically with articles or news that relates to our request and remind the individual to whom we made the request of our conversation/request and why it is important.

The negotiating process consists of five critical steps:

  1. Pre-negotiation (a.k.a. the preparation stage) prior to the meeting
  2. Opening statement where we clearly and concisely move the conversation to ask/request in 1-3 sentences
  3. Information or data sharing that will help others assess the situation
  4. Framing your request as a solution to a problem or as a tool that will move a goal forward, and
  5. The agreement or closing where you ask when they will have an answer for you.

The latter will involve some compromising thus it is important that before you leave the meeting where things are agreed you summarize what you heard as the agreement to ensure you are all on the same page and have an equal understanding of the agreement.

Whether or not you intend to go into leadership positions, time management skills and negotiation skills will be two skills that serve you well throughout your career.

This entry was posted in career advancement, General, Leadership, Negotiating faculty / post doc positions, postdocs, Tenure, work life balance. Bookmark the permalink.

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