Last month, we continued our series on Diversity and Inclusivity by having a discussion on leadership styles with Lee Bitsóí, Directory of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at Rush University Medical Center. Lee joined us over skype, and discussed positive academic leadership and how it can help promote greater diversity in academia.
Most often, leaders employ a traditional style of leadership. Under traditional leadership, the leader focuses on repairing what is wrong, addressing strengths and weaknesses, and reacting to situations. While this type of leadership can be successful, the focus on negative attributes that “need fixing” may not be supportive. In contrast, positive leadership focuses on improving what is right, addressing strengths (but also recognizing weaknesses), and proactively creating healthy environments. Positive leadership can build a sense of hope and optimism, whereas traditional leadership may never achieve this goal. Lee recommended that we adopt positive style of leadership, which has a higher potential to push academia towards greater inclusivity.
One topic that especially struck me during our conversations was the difference between nurturing and coaching. Nurturing includes listening, validating and encouraging students whenever they face a challenge. In contrast, coaching acknowledges the student’s challenge, but focuses on engaging the student to actively find solutions that addresses their concerns. In academia, we are often given the chance to lead when we mentor undergraduate and graduate students. It had never occurred to me before that nurturing a student might not necessarily serve them best. Although subtly different, coaching can enable leaders and mentors to empower students to make their own proactive decisions. In the future, I will try to view my role as a postdoc more as a “coach,” and think about what tools and skills my undergraduates need to achieve their research and career goals.
Spending an hour discussing leadership skills with Lee and learning about his experiences both as a researcher and Director of Student Diversity was immensely valuable in thinking about how to create inclusive and positive environments. I have already started reflecting on my own leadership style and aspire to implement more positive leadership in my current lab and future labs.