Science Will Save Us — and It Will Make You a Better Leader

As we round the corner of a pandemic winter and turn our (still masked) faces toward the emerging spring sun, we have an international community of scientists to thank. They’ve worked tirelessly to save humanity, despite facing brutal questioning of their integrity and validity. After a year of lockdowns, cancelled plans, business closings and unexpected deaths, we can see a glimmer of hope on the horizon — all thanks to science.

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng

Millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been injected into arms around the world, including mine, helping to protect all of us. I’m personally hopeful that by mid-summer most of us will be able to travel safely again and enjoy a genuine feet-in-the-sand respite from the worst of it all. If that happens, we will have researchers, doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, virologists, and public health workers behind it. Their commitment to finding out the causes and curatives of this dreadful disease — all built on a fact-based platform and not on opinion — are what will lead us out of this once-in-a-lifetime sorrow.

Only research and trials, all based on existing and emerging data, can get us through and out. Our return to life B.C. (before COVID) can only happen in a relatively short amount of time (remember, the pandemic of 1918 lasted around five years, the plague — hundreds) because of science. It will be downright revolutionary if we put this to bed in less than two years’ time. In that case, our generations’ scientists are legends.

Science Also Makes the Business World Go Round

While business is a whole other realm — with entirely different goals, tasks and operations — companies also rely on data, research, testing and trials, in order to be successful today, and to make revolutionary improvements to our lives. There’s no longer a singular voice at the top shouting directives and building an empire on hunches. No, there are teams within running analytics, digitalizing processes, A/B testing, and building data-crunching AI that put the biggest and most disruptive players ahead. Leadership needs to adapt to this situation, as quickly as health scientists had to scramble to stay ahead of the viral curve.

This “business science” is undeniably powerful, especially for rising professionals. When you’re up against naysayers, disbelievers, old-timers and contrarians, as soon as you show data, they start shifting their stance. You can command and lead much more effectively when you have collective facts, rather than experience only, or pure intuition. With data up your sleeve your voice suddenly lifts from the pits of the dismissed to authority. And integrating intuition or experience on top of your facts will wrap up your arguments in the most effective way.

Building from data and research, trialing new approaches — and making mistakes or failing — are part of today’s leadership range. If you’re not yet doing these things, now is the time to adapt. Leaders must form a collective reality as a base of operations and use science as a pillar. They must not operate solely on subjective opinion or gut feelings but integrate those with hard facts and data.

I learned this as a marketing leader in the corporate world. My group shifted from a very traditional mass market approach, to introducing innovations in small test markets and tweaking those products based on consumer feedback. Suddenly we were swimming in data that we had to analyze and base any future advancements upon. I learned to motivate my team not just with sales numbers, but also with conversions, lead reciprocity, KPIs, marketing-spend-per-customer and more, building a fact-based ecosystem that would push us toward success and avert loss. As category leaders, we made a point to operate not from a position of self-assured confidence, but rather from a let’s-see-how-it-performs perspective. We all grew as a team and celebrated together when our “science” led us to the right path.

Now that I’m an executive coach, I look toward great thinkers such as Brené Brown, Dan Siegel, Robert Kegan, or Lisa Feldman Barrett. All are researchers with scientific backgrounds who build their theories on collective knowledge and data. They exemplify digging into what lies below, rather than what is seen on the surface. I can trust their approach, and thus their conclusions. They model for me how I should operate with my own work, and in guiding my clients.

As we move from pandemic crisis toward recovery, we need to be sure we’re dealing with facts, and listening to our constituents. Our teams, employees, and customers are watching to see if we make the right calls, if our timing is right, if we’re exhibiting empathy and operating safety, if we’re offering what they really, truly need at this precise moment. One way we can get through this transition successfully is by asking questions — surveying, collecting data — and using that information to base decision-making; by not relying on opinionated or loud voices, but on the quieter, more methodical, and pragmatic; and by taking small steps and observing results, rather than jumping fully into what we suspect is best. Using the “science” we all have access to is the best platform for moving forward.

If you need a sounding board on how to proceed through the next phase of this crisis, or if you seek guidance on transitioning from a traditional to a data-based approach, I can help. I’ve coached leaders and teams through digital transformations, adjusting to the pandemic, and most importantly, finding a collective voice and a shared purpose – something that is essential now. Contact me to set up a consultation.

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