One of the greatest questions for self or business development is ‘how can I become a better leader?’. Maybe you’ve been fortunate enough to work for a good, maybe even great leader. Wonderful if you have, but my sense is most of us haven’t been so lucky.

Two common approaches to improve as a leader include choosing a mentor or acquiring a coach. There’s much to commend having a mentor, someone who demonstrates model behaviour or having a coach teach us to lead.

I’ve been blessed with at least one great mentor and one great coach, both of whom I worked for directly. My mentor taught me valuable lessons about leading, yet he and I didn’t connect well on a personal level. My coach guided me using Socratic questioning so I could decide what and how I should change. His death in 1998 was a great loss for me.

Neither avenue is quick; good mentors and coaches can be difficult to locate and establishing a meaningful connection harder still. I certainly recommend these approaches, but, what is becoming very helpful to me on my quest to be a better leader is to be an outstanding scientist. But what does it mean to be an outstanding scientist?

  • It means having the courage to face inconsistencies between what we expect to see and the way things are and not just glossing over them as inconsequential.
  • It means challenging commonly held assumptions.
  • It means proving why our theories are wrong! Yes, that’s right – it means trying to prove why our theories are wrong just as hard as we try to prove they are right. When was the last time any of us did that?
  • It means learning from both success and failure – not every success is for the reasons we cite, and neither is every failure. It means asking, ‘could there be another explanation for this success or this failure?’.

Being an outstanding scientist also means being wary of two common mistakes that turn good science practice into farce:

  • First, acting on untested, or worse, invalidated hypotheses resulting in doing what should not be done – errors of commission. You might say ‘nobody does that’, but what’s that definition of insanity again?
  • Second, not acting on validated hypothesis resulting in not doing what should be done – errors of omission. How many times do we fail to adopt what has been shown to work elsewhere?

To be a great leader we must include being an outstanding scientist, something taught by a man who was both great mentor and coach to many people, Dr. Eli Goldratt.  Sadly, Eli passed away June 11, 2011.  Now, in his absence I strive to become an outstanding scientist too.

Rest in peace Eli always, Rodger