Leading Insights. Sarah Says…

…part of the Diamond Dozen series

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Dr Sarah Yarwood-Lovett talks about

management  .  business  .  skills

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Elaine…  You have successfully moved from a scientific background into business leadership; both in a corporate setting and as a start-up.  What advice would you give to other scientists and engineers wishing to make a similar transition?

Sarah…  For me, the one thing that made the greatest difference was embarking upon an MBA and developing my business and leadership capabilities as I would any other technical skill.

Technical specialists are great at focusing on and developing core technical skills but inevitably career progression will require some managerial responsibility, and it can be quite easy to overlook more managerial skills. In my case, the managerial responsibilities meant representing my team at board meetings, understanding financial and performance targets and being the advocate for individuals on my team. How well I was able to fulfil that leadership role had huge implications for the rest of my team. So, to me, business and leadership skills are amongst the most important to develop.

The skills I’m learning through my MBA have given me the proficiency and direction to start a new venture so adding business and leadership to my skill set makes my technical abilities more flexible and opens up more opportunities.

So I would suggest that scientists or engineers making a similar transition look ahead to what responsibilities you’re likely to have and what additional skills you’re likely to need to fulfil them.

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Elaine…  Having known you for just over a year now, I appreciate how important professional development and learning are to you.  Why do they matter to you and how do you decide where to invest your time and efforts?

Sarah…  Professional development and learning are essential because these underpin standards and quality of work. In a technical environment, these are vital.

Developing skills obviously needs to either address areas of weakness that are holding you back or add to a strength. This also needs to align with an opportunity to make good use of the training and a genuine interest by the trainee.

Having a good awareness of your own abilities and understanding what skills you need to develop to progress your career is useful in directing efforts. Team leaders should be able to advise you honestly and clearly about this.

Personal development is an important way for a company to invest in individuals but there are other ways that individuals can take the initiative to develop their own skills, such as volunteering, mentorship, shadowing at work, attending conferences, developing networks, reading… These all indicate commitment as well as helping to widen your capabilities.

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Elaine…  We have talked about your drive to showcase and support your team members, what 3 top tips would you give to emerging leaders wishing to do the same?

Sarah…  Very hard to pick just 3! So I’ve cheated and stitched several points together under three themes!

1) Understand and recognise the strengths of individuals on your team and accentuate superpowers. Along with this, it’s important to share successes of your team – some individuals are good at telling senior management about their wins, others would rather die; so as team leader you are often their advocate and the only way some senior managers will ever get to hear of their stellar work. Don’t take credit away from your team.

2) Help create an atmosphere of honesty and trust. Team leaders strongly influence the working culture and trust is vital if people make mistakes and need your help to resolve them. I believe in taking responsibility for team mistakes and admitting my own. This tends to invite lots of creativity and opportunities to support new ideas and innovations by team members.

3) Lead by example, not only through technical ability but also through high standards and ethics. This goes hand in hand with being clear about expectations and giving constructive feedback (with no forestalling, no fuzziness and no fear) when these aren’t met.

 

Diamond_DozenLearn more about my Diamond Dozen…

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