What It Takes to Be a Leader in General Science

While life sciences have taken center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Dr. Anthony Fauci taking on almost mythic leadership status, general-science leadership has shared the spotlight and has called attention to what Lund University associate professor Sverre Spoelstra calls “the dichotomy between leaders and bureaucrats that underpins popular leadership notions, such as visionary leadership, transformational leadership and authentic leadership.”


Steven Dewhurst points out that science leadership is less individually focused than it was in the days of “brilliant iconoclasts,” like Copernicus and Marie Curie, and instead, much more team-driven, as well as more interdisciplinary. “Major opportunities for discovery increasingly lie at the intersection of different fields,” Dewhurst says. Team leadership affords the opportunity for science leaders to coax the best out of team members. “A less effective scientific leader,” notes Jason Erk, “may unknowingly squander [team member] potential that might have flourished under different circumstances.”


The people-leadership skills that enable scientists to guide effective teams, however, are often deficient in science leaders. “When comparing skills in non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) employees and STEM employees, those from a STEM background are perceived to lack interpersonal skills and time management,” write Rowan Brookes and co-authors write in Scientific American. Experts note that soft skills, such as people management, are typically not included in scientific training.


Women are underrepresented in science leadership. The higher the notch in the hierarchy, the less likely we are to find female science leaders, asserts GenderInSITE’s report, Pathways to Success:  Bringing a Gender Lens to the Scientific Leadership of Global Challenges. Causal factors include lack of challenging assignments for women; overvaluation of male opinions and ideas, accompanied by undervaluation of women’s intellectual contributions; an expectation that women must worker harder for less money; work environments that are “dismissive” at best and hostile at worst. Women, note Marla Parker and Eric Welch in an academic paper, “are more likely to be in discipline leadership positions and less likely to be a leader of a research center or have an administrative university leadership position.”


Preferred Background

Scientists typically hold doctoral degrees and serve in postdoctoral positions as researchers for two to three years. Those who’ve been trained as a scientist, writes David G. Jensen, usually begin at the research scientist level. Jensen discusses the “dual ladder” concept in which a scientist can reach a high-level role in the hierarchy, such as principal scientist (roughly equivalent to the vice-president level) without having to take on administrative and management functions. Of course, some scientists may prefer a path with those functions, such as those Jensen lays out – business development, regulatory affairs, sales and marketing, operations, or project management.


Desirable Characteristics

Additional leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring general science leaders include the following:

See also a nice list of skills at various levels detailing resources about those skills.


Leadership Styles in the General Science Field

As in many fields, scientists are often encouraged to adapt their leadership style to what is needed at any given time, thus a flexible or situational leadership style. Writing for Forbes, George Bradt characterizes “scientific leadership” as a style unto itself. “Scientific leaders guide and inspire by influencing knowledge with their thinking and ideas,” Bradt writes.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in general science:


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What It Takes to Be a Leader in Engineering

Engineering leadership has a bit of an identity crisis. Much of this crisis stems from the fact that engineers have a highly technical focus that may not include traditional leadership skills, such as interpersonal communication and people-management.


“For individuals whose love of engineering comes from their technical problem solving,” Cindy Rottmann and co-authors write in the academic journal Leadership, “the sudden shift to resolving ‘people problems’ can feel both uncomfortable and un-engineer-like.” The article quotes one study participant who suggests that the word “leadership” is “antithetical to the engineering mind-set.” The authors point to a mismatch between the identities of engineers and traditional notions of leadership. Engineers’ identities, the authors note, tend toward applied scientist, service professional, team player, technical problem solver, task-oriented doer, and process optimizer, while traditional leadership identities tend to be charismatic visionaries, influential dwellers at the top of the hierarchy, change agents, delegators, and solvers of people problems.


Another mismatch occurs between engineering leadership and business expectations. Siva Kumar cites a study that showed that 33 percent of engineering-project failures are the result of insufficient direct oversight by executive leadership, noting that a well-defined engineering strategy is the only way to overcome this mismatch.


Perhaps reflecting engineering leadership’s quest for identity, researchers in the field are eager to define engineering leadership. One of several such proposed definitions comes from Robyn Paul, Arindom Sen, and Emily Wyatt, writing in 2018 for American Society for Engineering Education:

“Engineering leadership is an approach that influences others to effectively collaborate and solve problems. Engineering leadership requires technical expertise, authenticity, personal effectiveness, and the ability to synthesize diverse expertise and skillsets. Through engineering leadership, individuals and groups implement transformative change and innovation to positively influence technologies, organizations, communities, society, and the world at large.”


Statistics on women in engineering are elusive, but given that just 13 percent of engineers were women as of 2019, the female share of leadership roles is even smaller. Barriers to women’s leadership in engineering include a lack of role models. Incremental change is on the horizon, thanks to the major push in recent years to encourage women to pursue STEM careers.


Preferred Background

Engineering leadership in project- or process-management roles is typically preceded by 5-10 years of technical work, note Rottmann and co-authors. The disconnect between engineering and leadership would seem to be the motivation for the emergence of engineering-leadership education in which “the focus is placed on interpersonal communication (vs. organizational communication) and understanding of motivation and behaviors of self and with respect to interactions with others,” says mechanical engineering professor David Bayliss.


One educational option for aspiring engineering leaders is the Master of Engineering Management degree. Another is an MBA, which leadership expert Tanveer Nasseer says enables engineers to “easily move into management.”


A typical career path to engineering leadership starts with engineer and progresses through engineer II, senior engineer, staff engineer, to principal engineer. Among roles at the executive level are director of engineering, vice president of engineering, chief engineer, and senior vice president of engineering. A blog called The Magnet offers a helpful list of types of engineering and engineering roles at all levels.


Desirable Characteristics

Rottman and co-authors note three possible orientations to engineering leadership: technical mastery, collaborative optimization, or organizational innovation. Those oriented toward innovation need leadership skills, but Ohio University notes that traditional engineering education has emphasized management over leadership. The university also suggests development of such soft skills as communication and people skills. Additional leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring engineering leaders include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Engineering Field

Little is written about leadership styles in engineering. Brendon Davis of Davis Companies proposes engineers fall into four leadership styles – Envisioners, Analyzers, Feelers, and Doers. Kettering University identifies the coaching, transformational, and servant leadership styles as most appropriate for engineers. A study of 70 lead engineers across a variety of industries and project types by research and consulting firm Independent Project Analysis found that “engineers exhibiting a supportive leadership style tend to place importance on people management skills and spend more time communicating.”


Jack Kora, VP of engineering at dscout, shares an interesting first-person case study about changing his leadership style, describing how, when he started a new position, he failed to first build trust with his team and started making changes his team didn’t always understand. When an employee-satisfaction survey showed negative attitudes toward Kora, he began to research leadership styles and determined his was the wrong approach at this new company. While he never identifies his former or subsequent leadership styles, he cites a Fast Company article on six leadership styles – pacesetting, authoritative, affiliative, coaching, coercive, and democratic – as his inspiration for developing a more appropriate style.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in engineering:

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What It Takes to Be a Leader in Consulting

In April 2020, London-based Source Global Research predicted that the U.S. consulting market would shrink 20 percent by the end of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Procurement-intelligence firm Beroe, Inc., monetized this reduction in business as a $30 billion hit to the consulting sector. Client postponement or cancellation of consultant-led projects is responsible for much of the loss.


However, “even before COVID-19, the consulting industry was in the middle of a period of profound change,” observe the authors of “Leaders of Tomorrow” from the firm SheffieldHaworth. “Effective leadership has, therefore, never been more important for consulting firms than it is today,” the authors note.


Typically, the top leadership role in the consulting sector is partner. Partners oversee strategy and goal-setting for the business and its revenue. At one time, consulting partners shared in the company’s profits, but this is not necessarily the case today. A blogger at CaseCoach points out, “only a small percentage of consultants who join top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain make it to partner.” In fact, the blogger estimates that less than 5 percent of consultants become partners.


What does the partner role consist of? In an article titled How to become a partner at McKinsey & Co, Sarah Butcher offers this description:

Partners oversee multiple engagements for multiple clients at a time. They maintain long-term relationships with more senior-tenured clients and entire organizations. They advise clients in terms of the types of work that might be most relevant and useful, outline the scope of our work with their clients and teams and manage requests for proposals. Partners are accountable for the work we do and impact we deliver; they remain involved in daily problem-solving and help their teams solve the toughest parts of each challenge. They mentor junior-tenured … colleagues, take leadership roles in the firm and contribute more heavily to recruiting, office/practice leadership, etc.


Experts offer advice for those seeking to make partner. Nitin Kumar, whose Getting to The Partner Level is richly detailed, notes that good performance is not enough; the aspiring partner must be growth oriented and demonstrate that he or she can help grow the firm. Kumar also recommends a strong personal brand, the ability to network effectively, commitment to clients, and thought leadership – or what he calls “presence.” Others advise getting published, having a full grasp on industry trends, possessing strong business acumen, developing new business, and honing outstanding skills in consulting and engagement management.


Preferred Background

One of the common paths for entering the consulting industry is after attaining a bachelor’s degree. Many consultants, however, don’t join the sector until after gaining a master’s degree, typically an MBA or a master’s in management. “Typically, candidates who do not hold an advanced degree,” Butcher notes, “such as a PhD, JD (Doctor of Jurisprudence), MD (Doctor of Medicine) or MBA join as business analysts.” The third common path for entering the consulting sector is from industry by leveraging functional expertise, for example, in supply chain and operations, or industry expertise.


Not all consulting leaders have business backgrounds. Butcher quotes Caitlin Storhaug, McKinsey’s global director of recruitment marketing and communications: “We have significantly increased our experienced hire recruiting and our experienced hires include former doctors, lawyers, soldiers and even a theatre company director. We are looking for people who love to work in teams to solve the world’s toughest problems.”


A common progression of roles from bottom to top (which takes about 10 years) starts with business analyst, then associate, consultant, senior consultant, managing consultant, associate partner, and finally partner. Because the progression can vary from firm to firm, Vijay Vijayasankar created The path to partnership in big consulting firms. The predictable path has been a selling point for the sector, although Richard Longstreet points out on LinkedIn, “consulting careers today are much messier; consultants are no longer hikers progressing along a trail from A to Z, but must instead see themselves as explorers and navigators, charting a course for themselves through unmapped territory.”


Desirable Characteristics

“To succeed in the future,” write the authors of “Leaders of Tomorrow,” partners will need to be capable generalists with a rich understanding of their firm’s capabilities – and, crucially, the ability to create bespoke solutions for clients that cut across them.” Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:

Leadership Styles in the Consulting Field

Not surprisingly, a consultative leadership style is recommended for consulting leaders. “Consultative leadership,” says Gerald Ainomugisha, a blogger at 6Q, “entails asking key people for their thoughts and allowing them time to process the problem and solve for what they feel was the best possible solution.” Given that consulting leaders may interact with diverse organizations, advice by a blogger at Cerius Executives also makes sense – that consultants should adapt their leadership style to the organization they’re currently working with.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in consulting:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Accounting

Entering the third decade of the 21st century, leaders in the accounting sector are confronted with the inexorable march toward automation and digitization against the backdrop of a call for upskilling, especially in the area of change management.


The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) cites leadership skills as important for accountants, “particularly as they have become key to helping their organizations navigate an increasingly complex business world.” Adding new complexity to this world has been the COVID-19 pandemic. “Like every profession, accountancy will emerge from COVID-19 changed,” write the authors of the IFAC’s report, Accountancy Skills Evolution: Impact of Covid-19 & the Path Forward. “We will be accustomed to digital processes we once thought impossible,” the report goes on. “Our change management abilities will be sharper than ever.”


Russell Shapiro, who interviewed 12 accounting-firm leaders about COVID’s effects, also cited upsides of the pandemic, noting that managing partners “see reduced space needs, and increased remote work (but not exclusively), and less travel.” Consequently, automation has accelerated in the accounting sector. Shapiro, an accounting attorney, also notes that while the economy continues to suffer, pricing, recruiting and training, business development, and maintaining employee morale will be affected. Half of accountants were predicted to work from home in 2021, writes Emma Pegg for ReceiptBank.


Top leaders in accounting include Chief Accounting Officers (CAO), sometimes known as corporate controllers. Chief Finance Officers also sometimes spring from the accounting ranks. CAOs, notes the University of Alabama, are operations managers overseeing an organization’s accounting and accounting-related practices. CAOs preside over all accounting functions and ensure accurate reporting and bookkeeping that complies with federal regulations. Types of accountants at all levels include staff accountants, Certified Professional Accountants (CPAs), investment accountants, project accountants, management accountants, forensic accountants, and auditors.


As in many fields, women are underrepresented in the top echelons of accounting leadership. The 2019 CPA Firm Gender Survey from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) reported that women represented 23 percent of partners in CPA firms. Both AICPA’s report and Promotions, Plateaus and Possibilities: New Ways Forward for Women in Accounting from Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance and its Accounting MOVE Project point to incremental progress in women’s leadership in accounting and offer strategies, such as obtaining mid-career coaching, for women’s advancement. Women in accounting leadership fare better in small businesses than in large firms.


Preferred Background

A master’s degree in accounting (MACC) is recommended for those who aspire to accounting leadership. A scan of job postings for top-level accounting roles suggests 7-10 years of managerial accounting experience is desirable. Some C-suite accounting positions require applicants to have served for a few years in the same role they seek at a new firm. The blogging team at QuickBooks offers suggestions for those seeking top accounting leadership positions, such as seeking to serve as the “numbers person” on nonprofit boards, applying for in-house leadership positions with an accounting firm or with a business that has a large accounting department, and garnering endorsements about leadership skills.


Desirable Characteristics

As noted above, upskilling is a current battle cry in the accounting sector. “There is a clear need,” write the authors of Accountancy Skills Evolution: Impact of Covid-19 & the Path Forward, “for well-rounded skillsets that combine technical skills and professional skills that are rooted in relationship-building and communication.” The report also suggests building skills in storytelling and scenario planning, as well as in “new techniques for analyzing and interpreting data in differing circumstances, and aptitudes for strategizing on increasing priorities.” Speaking in a short video, Jennifer Wilson, co-founder and partner at ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, recommends building connections with staff and being open to feedback.


The conclusion of 2016 research conducted by Miriam Gerstein and co-authors was that “the ideal person to head an accounting firm …  must be one who has a laudable vision and knows how to communicate it, believes in servant leadership, wants to set an ethical tone at the top, cares about all stakeholders, believes in maximizing client satisfaction, encourages teamwork by building a learning organization, understands the importance of diversity, supports CSR, and wants to build a strong positive reputation for his/her organization.”


Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Accounting Field

Several researchers have looked at leadership styles in the accounting sector. Jeffrey Barnes and co-authors concluded that the “transformational leadership style is the most effective, transactional is not effective, and passive-avoidant leadership style is deleterious to subordinates’ perception of the preferred ethical climates.” The transformational style was also found to align with all the skills associated with accounting senior leadership, posited Brian Carpenter and co-authors. Joanna Kalin tied the transformational style to addressing gender gaps in accounting.




These resources offer additional insight on leadership in accounting:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Retail

Retail, an industry disrupted to its core by the COVID-19 pandemic while already facing significant challenges, cries out for strong, transformational leadership. “COVID-19 has shaken retail markets everywhere,” notes the report The Pandemic and Global Retail Markets. “While many other segments of the economy were strong prior to the pandemic,” the report continues, “the retail sector was in the midst of a correction, reacting to growth in ecommerce and other changes in consumer spending habits.”


The pandemic has slammed the retail industry with unpredictable restrictions, temporary and permanent closures, consumers staying home and shopping online, along with operational changes, such as curbside pickup and contactless payment. “Retailers all over the world are stress-testing their leadership principles and capacities,” Bob Phipps writes in an interview with Ralph Lauren’s CEO on the pandemic’s leadership lessons. Even more daunting are predictions that the industry will never be the same even after the pandemic. Researchers expect consumers to continue buying online in massive numbers. Ecommerce purchases are expected to increase 169 percent post-pandemic, predicts a report from Accenture.


Retail executive teams need leaders who can rise to COVID and post-COVID challenges. Retail leadership teams currently are predominantly male; a 2017 study by consulting firm Russell Reynolds found 84 percent of the 300 retail executives they researched were men. More than two-thirds of these executives, whose average age was 54, had been internally promoted, having spent an average of 15 years with their current firms. Most of those hired from outside had retail backgrounds.


“Women — and other minorities — will likely continue to face significant barriers when charting their path into those roles,” asserts Sheena Butler-Young, who also writes about “second-generation bias” — in which women candidates are recruited for top slots but expected to “have experience in roles that were traditionally offered almost exclusively to men.” In 2020, just 5.6 percent of retail CEOs were women, reports Sarah Hoodspith in Retail Insider. Meanwhile, Cara Salpini notes on Retail Dive that “since 2010, the percent of executives of color in retail has hardly changed.” The Retail Leadership 700, a report that reviewed the diversity composition retail boards of directors, suggests retailers risk productivity and profit by failing to address diversity gaps.


Preferred Background

In terms of education, the retail industry has a low barrier to entry; most people can enter the field with no more than an associate’s degree or even a high-school diploma. Those who progress into retail management will likely attain a bachelor’s degree in business, and those seeking senior leadership will benefit from an MBA. Significant informal education happens in retail, as well. Interviewing three retail CEOs to glean their leadership lessons, James Coker, a reporter for Essential Retail, stated, “One effective method of learning how to be a CEO is to regularly pick the brains of those who have experienced this type of role.” Coker shared the experience of one of his interviewees, Timo Boldt, on this type of learning: “Every CEO or entrepreneur you meet has rich learnings, so I think the faster you can absorb them, and you develop a growth mindset, you can learn from failure.”


Career paths into executive retail leadership vary. In fact, Barbara Farfan identifies four ways retail leadership aspirants can advance. Relatively uncommon today, Farfan says, is the traditional rise through the ranks. More common is a path that includes company and industry hopping. Farfan cites Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who had no background in retail before founding the online behemoth, as an example of her third path, specialized focus and expertise. The fourth path is to start your own retail enterprise as Walmart’s Sam Walton and Costco founder James Sinegal did. It is noteworthy that retail is thought to provide relatively weak leadership pipelines. “We have found,” say Chain Store Age writers Maryam Morse and Ryan Dixon, “that retailers in particular have often insufficiently invested in strong leadership pipelines.”


Desirable Characteristics

Because consumer behavior spawned by the COVID pandemic is predicted to stay with us for the foreseeable future, retail leaders are already focused on re-skilling and re-training workers. “The involvement of retail leaders in managing this momentous transition will in itself require the acquisition of new skills,” writes Rosanna Iacono, managing partner at The Growth Activists. A Multimedia Plus COVID-19 Impact Survey noted that new-employee training and training in communication and contactless payments are current re-skilling priorities, while training in 2021 was expected to emphasize leadership development and safety. Skills mandates pressing on retail executives even before the pandemic have centered around technology and championing customers.


Desirable leadership characteristics for retail executive leaders include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Retail Field

Transformational, transactional, and democratic leadership styles get the most attention in retail literature. Researchers Adel Mekraz and Raghava Rao Gundala found the transactional style to dominate among their retail study participants, but by a small margin. They linked both transactional and transformational styles to lower employee turnover. Cuiping Zhang found the transformational and democratic leadership styles to positively correlate with job satisfaction in the retail industry.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in retail:

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What It Takes to Be a Leader in Consumer Packaged Goods

CPG - Consumer Packaged Goods acronym concept

Recurrent themes among experts in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry point to a discipline that would benefit from a boost in innovation, disruption, and digital transformation. “Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies are classic examples of organizations that have to move from a static-control to a dynamic-innovative focus,” write Penn State’s Samuel Hunter and his co-authors in “Shifting to a Strategy of Innovation: The Key Role of Leadership in Consumer Packaged Goods.” “Innovation is critical to the success of CPGs,” he notes.


Despite lagging in these areas, the industry has more than held its own during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to consumers stocking up on essentials and more, though not without significant supply-chain woes. Writing about how the early months of the pandemic changed the mindset of CPG CEOs, Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, characterizes the CPG response as “companies ensuring the delivery of products needed to help fight COVID-19 and doing the right things for essential employees.”


Whether building on COVID-driven momentum or tackling the mandates of innovation, disruption, and digitization, CPG companies need strong leadership. A 2020 study from TCS Business 4.0 Institute, Opportunities for Leadership and Disruption in Consumer Packaged Goods,” distinguishes digital-leader companies – those with strong leaders promoting digital initiatives that contribute to increased revenue – from digital-follower firms that have little digitization going on and minimal success in increasing revenue. The study found that CPG companies tend to be followers. The risk of the follower position is falling behind in the world of online sales. In a brief account of the recent history of the industry, Richard Stark and co-authors note that between 2013 and 2020, “more than $17 billion in sales shifted from CPG giants to startups and 90 percent of all CPG e-commerce growth came from new, smaller companies.”


Consumer Packaged Goods executive teams, reports a 2019 study by consulting firm Spencer Stuart, have an average of 12.8 members. Four-fifths of CPG company leaders have devoted their whole careers to consumer packaged goods. Of the 50 leaderships teams Spencer Stuart researched, 17.5 percent of studied executive-team members were women;16 percent included no women, and 36 percent boasted three or more women. Among CPG industry CEOs, only 5-6 percent are women.


Like many leaders in CPG, CEOs also tend to have long tenures at their companies – an average of 22.6 years – and have been CEO for an average of 5.3 years, reports Spencer Stuart. Very few are hired from outside their companies. Laura Gurski, senior managing director and global industry lead for consumer goods and services at Accenture, paints a picture of a typical CPG CEO: “male … aged in his mid-fifties, and overwhelmingly from an industry background in management, sales or marketing.”


Preferred Background

In addition to the most common functional backgrounds, CPG leaders come from finance operations/supply chain sales/commercial consulting, strategy, technology, quality, R&D, and innovation. Common industry backgrounds, Spencer Stuart’s CPG Leadership Index reports, include beverages, food, household products, tobacco, personal products, healthcare, and private equity. Frank Birkel and his co-authors of a 2019 Spencer-Stuart report on the “CPG CEO of the future” observe that experience in regional general management and global category management is advantageous.


Desirable Characteristics

An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in CPG leadership. “Changes sweeping through the CPG sector require new capabilities within the top team,” proclaims a 2018 McKinsey report. Pointing to the need to level-up in digital, big data, and analytics skills, Patrick Guggenburger, writing for McKinsey, warns, “for the consumer-packaged-goods, the skill crunch is just around the corner, driven in part by the shift toward digital channels.” The Spencer-Stuart CPG CEO of the future report notes that “the next generation of CPG leadership must anticipate how to better connect with consumers, invest in the right technologies and business models, and use culture to spark innovation and growth.”


Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:


Leadership Styles in the CPG Field

Research on leadership styles in the CPG industry tends to focus on effects of various leadership styles rather than predominance of any one style in the field. A study by Anthonia Adeniji and co-authors found that transformational and transactional styles had a positive effect on employee engagement and performance. Similar results were reported from a South African study in which Solomon Omonona and co-authors found the transactional leadership style to have a greater influence on employee performance than other styles of leadership.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in Consumer Packaged Goods:

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What It Takes to Be a Leader in Life Sciences

As the industry under pressure to produce vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutic medications to address the COVID-19 pandemic, life sciences faces disruption, along with significant leadership challenges and diversion of attention away from normal business. EY reports in How life sciences CEOs can rewire strategic planning and execution on research in which 76 percent of surveyed life-sciences industry CEOs and other senior executives said COVID-19 will impact or even pivot their organization’s medium- to long-term strategy.” A study by McKinsey indicates that up to 80 percent of the time spent by surveyed top-level executives (CMOs and other medical leaders) is currently on crisis management. The EY report suggests the addition of roles such as chief digital officer and chief innovation officer “to help bring necessary viewpoints to the table in order to develop a sustainable long-term strategy.”

Even before COVID, however, the industry, according to a 2018 McKinsey report on developing tomorrow’s life-science leaders, faced “demographic shifts, mounting cost pressures, advancing digitization, emerging scientific breakthroughs, and powerful new competitors.”

Top leadership roles in life sciences include CEO, Chief Scientific Officer, Chief Medical Officer Regulatory Affairs Director, Chief Operations Officer, Business Development Officer, Chief Finance Officer, Senior Director, Executive Director, Assistant/Associate Vice President, Vice President, Therapeutic Head. A list of 166 life-science roles at all levels can be found on the Biospace site, which also offers a life-science job board.

A disproportionately small number of women and people of color populate top leadership roles in life science’s most dominant sector, biotech. Ned Pagliarulo reported on a 2020 study by BioPharmaDive showing that only 30 percent of executive positions and just 18 percent of board seats are held by women, despite their making up half the companies’ workforces. The study found that about 80 percent of CEOs were men and almost 90 percent were white.

Preferred Background: Education and Experience

Unlike in many industries, where education takes a back seat to experience, a strong academic background, particularly in the sciences, is required in many top life-science leadership roles. The ability to translate that academic science background into a business setting is seen as a highly desirable trait in life-science leaders. “A transition from a science-oriented to a business-oriented culture seems to be essential to survive ‘the valley of death,’ and must begin within the company’s leadership,” writes biological scientist Isabela Oliva. At the highest level – Chief Medical Officer – a medical degree and state licensure as a physician are required, sometimes enhanced by specialty-practice certifications and a degree in business, as well as management experience and 5-10 years of clinical experience beyond residency.

McKinsey’s Developing tomorrow’s leaders in life sciences report suggests leadership development, given that only about 30 percent of current leaders surveyed had participated in such training. Leadership coaching may also be desirable, especially for those transitioning from academia to business.


Desirable Characteristics

 An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in life-science leadership. The field “requires people who are willing to take risks, conquer new science, and have endurance for the many years it takes to develop a new medicine,” asserts Deanna Petersen, CBO of AVROBIO.

The COVID pandemic adds new dimensions to what is needed in a life-science leader. The EY report notes “life sciences industry CEOs and other senior executives need to address a few critical areas as they develop strategy for the post-pandemic era: building resiliency into their supply chain, addressing fast-evolving customer needs, supporting effective innovation to develop new treatments and staving off threats from unexpected competitors.

Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:

Predominant Leadership Styles in the Life-Science Field

Research on leadership styles in the life-science industry is limited. Jolyn Taylor and Diane Bodurka acknowledge that “all leadership types may be used at some point by effective leaders,” while pointing to democratic and transformational styles as especially effective in the life sciences. A chapter in the textbook Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science recognizes the dominance of the transformational style in recent years, but also points to use of behavioral, relational, transformational, transactional, contingency, and contextual styles.


These resources offer additional insight on leadership in life sciences:

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What It Takes to Be a Leader in the Telecommunications Industry

As vast numbers of employees became remote workers when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, telecommunications-industry leaders were called upon to provide “ultra-reliable connectivity for at-home, work, school, and social interaction,” as a KPMG report noted. The pandemic disruption has challenged the strategic vision of top telecom leaders and turned their attention to what the report describes as “organizational resilience to capture emerging opportunities and new revenue streams.


Though they could not have anticipated the specific disruption wrought by the pandemic, Patrick Viguerie, Keith Cowan, and Brian Hindo knew when they wrote The Future of the Telecommunications Industry: A Dual Transformation in 2017 that, while disruption is inevitable, “opportunities are greater today than ever before for industry players that embrace disruption, reimagine their network services capabilities, and drive growth.” The authors recommended a customer-centric approach to these tasks.


Most diversity initiatives in the telecom industry appear to focus on the underrepresentation of women in the field. The Global Leaders Forum, for example, has launched an initiative to “drive improvements in gender diversity, both within the organizations of members, and more broadly across the industry.” Eric Cevis, who spearheads the initiative, notes that “in 95% of surveyed GLF organizations, women represent fewer than 50% of direct reports to the CEO.


Preferred Background: Education and Experience

A report from Spencer Stuart on telecom CEOs indicates that backgrounds in technology, media, or telecommunications dominate among top leaders, more than a third of them having spent their entire careers in telecom. Functional areas from which CEOs have emerged include operations and general management, finance, and to a lesser extent, strategy and business development, IT and engineering, and sales and marketing. A healthy portion of the studied CEOs had also been CEOs in their last job, while others had been senior vice presidents, executive vice presidents or regional presidents, COOs, or CFOs.


Educational backgrounds solely dedicated to telecommunications are uncommon, according to the study. Most followed an academic program focused on business administration, finance, accounting, economics, IT, or engineering. Bachelor’s degrees were universal among the studied CEOs, with about a quarter also earning an MBA or PhD, and another quarter gaining other advanced degrees.


Desirable Characteristics

 An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in telecommunications leadership. Customer-centrism is currently seen as highly valuable for telecom leaders, especially given that customers are using telecom services in greater numbers for working and learning at home, as well as consuming online entertainment. The ability to stay on top of trends and the competitive scenario are also seen as critical. Some experts suggest that hiring leaders from outside the telecom industry will result in fresh perspectives. Blogger Syed Ali cites creativity as one of the most crucial soft skills today. The telecom section of KPMG’s web site notes that amid the disruption, those who are “agile, strategic, cost conscious, and driven by data and analytics will be best positioned to benefit.”


Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:

Predominant Leadership Styles in the Telecommunications Industry

A number of researchers, primarily outside the U.S. and focused on specific telecom companies, have explored leadership styles in the telecommunications industry. Transformational, transactional and laissez faire leadership styles have been mentioned as common in the telecom industry, along with lesser known styles – contingent, inspirational, and intellectual, with the intellectual style shown by research to promote employee engagement.



  • Global Leaders’ Forum: Offers GLF Community, an “ecosystem for leaders across telecoms infrastructure, platform and applications providers, as well as the technology providers that serve them.”


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What It Takes to Be a Leader in Technology Security

A significant key to success for technology-security leaders appears to be the ability to combine business acumen with technology expertise. “It’s assumed that the information security leader has both the technical and tactical/operational skills to do the job,” states a report from consulting firm SpencerStuart. “Strategic and business acumen will distinguish the successful security leaders,” the report notes.

Similar to technology security (also known as IT security) but not precisely the same are data security, cybersecurity, and information security.

At the highest level, the leader in charge of technology security may be the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). Some roles along the way to the top include security analyst, security engineer, security administrator, security architect, security specialist, and security consultant. Fifty additional titles are listed in this article.


Preferred Background: Education and Experience

The SpencerStuart report notes evolving opinions about the importance of strong technical expertise for tech-security leadership. “While most executives we interviewed agreed that it may not be necessary to be an engineer or to have spent one’s entire career in IT,” the report states, “a good understanding of IT networks and systems is important, particularly as an increasing percentage of most businesses relies on technology.” Verbiage from a job posting encapsulates this idea of combining technical, leadership, and business knowledge: “[The role] includes the technical integration aspects of security technologies and processes, but also the leadership responsibilities related to leading effective corporate initiatives.”

Cybersecurity consultant and global CISO Phil Ferraro identifies three types of tech-security leader: (1) Technically savvy leaders who rose through the ranks from the technical side of IT, but may not be adept at communicating how tech security affects business risk and impacts shareholder value; (2) excellent presenters who are good at getting buy-in but may not completely understand technology security’s effect on business; and (3) “Those who have a deep technical understanding and excel at executive program management. These are the rock stars,” Ferraro says, “They have it all.”

A review of job postings in the discipline indicates that many, but not all, roles require a bachelor’s degree; some ask for an MBA or other master’s degree. Certifications, such as CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) are also available and sometimes desirable to employers.


Desirable Characteristics

 An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in tech-security leadership. The field suffers from a skills gap, according to a 2020 report in Forbes. Citing House Research and Technology Chair Haley Stevens (D-MI), Forbes writer Ted Knutson cautions “many of the half-million cybersecurity job openings are going begging because college computer-science graduates often lack the needed skills and hands-on experience.” Knutson also pointed to Stevens’s observation that lack of women in the profession exacerbates the skills shortage.

The SpencerStuart report summarizes top traits for tech-security leaders: “An effective security leader will be a strategic thinker, knowledgeable about IT and physical security issues, as well as the business. He or she will have superior communications skills and be able to make decisions quickly based on the available information, whether in day-to-day operations or in crisis situations.” Additional leadership characteristics include the following:


Predominant Leadership Styles in the Technology-Security Field

Several researchers have considered leadership styles in the tech-security field. One academic research study by Debasis Bhattacharya found a significant correlation between transactional and transformational leadership styles and the level of concern towards information-security problems. Analysts Jeff Pollard and Josh Zelonis also support transformational leadership for these leaders, especially since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which the authors say, “changed the security landscape” with “employees working remotely off non-work-provided devices, data flowing haphazardly, and strategic plans disintegrating.”

Christophe Veltsos looked at the pros and cons of a charismatic tech-security leadership style, noting that charismatic leaders are good storytellers, have magnetic personalities, and “can clearly and eloquently articulate a vision.” On the negative side, however, a leader’s charisma can “undermine communications about cyber risks,” Veltsos asserts.

Given that no one leadership style dominates tech security, the multiple authors of the eBook, 90 Days: A CISO’s Journey to Impact, offer the practical advice that “leadership styles vary, so the best way to lead the security efforts in your organization will be the one that you are able to implement most effectively.”



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in technology security:


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What It Takes to Be a Leader in the Internet of Things

Leadership in the discipline known as the Internet of Things (IoT) is unique because the field itself is not seen as a technology, but rather “a leadership opportunity; a mechanism to transform businesses.” That’s the perspective of MIT’s Sloan Executive Education Blog, which goes on to assert that “preparing for IoT and broader digital transformation requires a strategic approach that carefully considers human capital and broader organizational transformation.”

While some firms have specific a Chief Internet of Things Officer, at the top levels, it is often the Chief Information Officer (CIO) who has responsibility for leading IoT initiatives. In a 2017 report, “Leading the IoT,” Gartner revealed survey results in which a third of responding organizations “expected that the CIO would be leading their IoT activities.” Other candidates for IoT leadership include the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Data (or Digital) Officer (CDO).

Stacey Higginbotham, who blogs about IoT, notes a new role that is “a step below the CDO.” Higgintbotham reports that “the person who takes on this role — titles include chief of automation and IT/OT architect — works closely with both the information technology (IT) team and the operational technology (OT) teams to accomplish business goals.”

As a relatively new field, IoT is plagued with skills gaps and a lack of understanding of what IoT can do for a business. The MIT Sloan blog notes that the Internet of Things Talent Consortium (IOTTC) surveyed 1,500+ senior executives about roadblocks to success in digital transformation and found that half of respondents cited lack of digital expertise and skills as a top barrier.

The blog lists leadership challenges in IoT that include improving strategic thinking and risk tolerance, implementing agile IoT product development, conceptualizing the IoT strategy and roadmap, mapping and monitoring the IoT ecosystem, developing dedicated IoT capability, diminishing limitations and mitigating risks, engaging in rapid decision-making, and championing trust and teamwork.


Preferred Background: Education and Experience

A scan of job postings in the IoT realm reveals that some firms do not even list educational requirements, while others require a bachelor’s degree and sometimes specify that the degree be in computer science, software engineering, or information systems. An MBA or other master’s degree is often required, as well. Certification programs are available for prospective IoT leaders; an article by Jamie Leigh lists seven such certifications.

Among the possible roles on the path to top IoT leadership are product manager, project manager, software engineer/architect, web development engineer, database designer, data scientist, IoT cloud engineer, and industrial engineer.


Desirable Characteristics

 An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in IoT leadership. The publication 2019 Trends in Internet of Things includes a comprehensive resource on competencies in IoT. The ability to leverage teamwork is seen as especially important in IoT. “When I discuss these IoT projects with organizations,” writes consultant Tripp Braden, “it becomes very clear that almost all of them are using a team-based model to deploy their pilot programs and beyond.” Additional leadership characteristics include the following:

Predominant Leadership Styles in the IoT Field

Rather than citing any particular traditional leadership style as dominant in the realm of the Internet of Things, researchers have suggested that leadership in this field calls for a new style. In her blog on leadership and trust, Dr. LauraAnn Migliore rejects an autocratic leadership style for IoT (“because no one person can know all and be all in the advanced knowledge, communications, and connectivity of the IoT”), and instead suggests a Holocratic style, “which involves the redistribution of power from the head of the organization (e.g., CEO and executive team) to the cellular level (e.g., the individual employee),” Migliore writes.

Other researchers propose a “connected” or “networked” leadership style. In a report titled, “Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the search firm Stanton Chase suggests a networked style, emphasizing creation of a diverse environment, agile leadership, and ethical responsibility.

Some experts discuss “digital leadership,” a term that describes subject-matter expertise but may also point to a distinctive style of leading. That’s the implication of a 2016 report from consulting firm Russell Reynolds in which the firm examined profiles of digital transformation leaders and discovered that successful “digital leaders exhibit psychometric attributes different from those of other senior executives. In fact, they have less in common with C-suite colleagues than anyone else in executive management.” These leaders stood out, the report says, for thinking outside the box, challenging traditional approaches, cutting through bureaucracy, and going against the grain.



These resources offer additional insight on IoT leadership:

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