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A Nobel view on scientific leadership

Brian Schmidt speaks to young scientists in Lindau (Courtesy: Lindau Meeting)

Brian Schmidt speaks to young scientists in Lindau. (Courtesy: Lindau Meeting)

By Alaina G Levine, at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany

One of the best things about being at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is that there are surprises around every corner. The organizers give you a programme, but you might not even realize the significance of an event until you are knee deep in it.

This morning, I attended one of four “Science Breakfasts” held this week, in which Nobel laureates and leaders in various industries share the stage and discuss topics of interest to the young scientists who have travelled from all over the world to participate in the meeting.

Over croissants and orange juice, the 2011 physics Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt took part in a lively discussion that itself was a mouthful: “Decoding science leadership: Developing capacity for leading innovation in a rapidly evolving 24/7 world with disruptive opportunities and challenges”.

Hosted by consultants McKinsey & Co., the breakfast panel was moderated by the firm’s director in Germany, Matthias Evers. The panel also featured McKinsey’s Frank Mattern and two young delegates to the Lindau meeting.

The group discussed what they believe are the four attributes of success: being supportive (of your team); seeking out and considering different perspectives (encouraging diversity); remaining results-oriented; and striving for effective problem solving.

After introductory remarks, the panel took questions and Schmidt, who in January was named vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, offered up a number of gems on leadership.

On engaging your team:
“Enthusiasm is your most powerful ingredient for getting things done.”

On being a leader:
“You don’t need to be in a position of power to be a leader.”

On team work:
“In the modern era, you can’t expect to be decoupled from the world, [especially] if you want to get a job, and if you want to get a job in science.”

On risk:
“Science is all about risk-taking.”

On failure:
“You are going to fail, and if you don’t fail on a regular basis on something, then you are not on the edge of your scientific investigations.”

On advisers:
“Find mentors, don’t expect them to come to you.”

On the power of science:
“Science is about changing the way we think and act. That is your currency. Leadership is about maximizing that currency.”

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