I have been attending this week sessions Manager as a Coach, a support program provided by the university for the staff in trying to get us to think more coach-like in how we manage people.
My key takeaway messages are that power is something that is shared, that good leaders and managers focus on giving positive uplifting feedback but they are also masters of attention and engagement.
They are present with the people that they lead, and instead of constantly focusing on flaws, they use their leadership skills in engaging their staff.
It is not just managing someone’s performance to tick off your key performance indicators, but it is a human-centered process about people and for the people.
But we should aim to embody this view of leadership also as academics.
Peer-review process: unleashing the wolf?
Let’s talk about the peer review process and how often we see a complete lack of leadership in terms of how the reviews come out.
If we take as the guiding principle of aiming to uplift innovation and our colleagues, most of us fail in real time.
Review opportunity seems often to be equated to unleashing the wolf from its cage, that one opportunity when we get to provide criticism for someone else.
The focus is often in pointing out all the flaws imaginable in the manuscript while not necessarily even considering its aims and background, the research leading up to the results.
I do believe in a robust peer-review process given that not all science is great or done in a robust manner.
That is why we have the peer-reviewed process to make sure that what is published in scientific journals is rigorous information and knowledge.
Yet, each of us cannot cover every angle and have often strong preferences what counts as “robust” and which literatures should be cited.
But the way our peer-review system is structured, it does stifle innovation.
Imagine the countless papers that are not submitted because people don’t think their ideas are not good enough and are intimated by the very process that is supposed to enable them to arrive at a greater clarity of insights.
Imagine the number of people who do not speak up at meetings because the way our institutions currently reward the loudest and most ambitious.
We are stifling innovation because of the particular behaviour patterns that we all seem to buy into, the rules of the game so to say.
Turning the tables around
But what if the process was not that intimidating?
What if authors did not have to worry about mean comments and negative feedback but see the process as a learning opportunity to improve their work?
What would an uplifting and inclusive peer-review process look like?
How would it make us feel and how would those comments enable us to do better science?
How would an inclusive workplace look like that enables a shared vision; a vision that people feel they can embrace and live up to?
As leaders and managers, we need to pay attention to the hidden insights and missed opportunities that are all around us, and work hard in making sure that we create an environment where those can be discovered.
Not every idea is great but an environment that allows us to explore ideas in a safe space is much more conducive for innovation than one that shuts those down.
Getting quality reviews is a challenge for journals for sure, but perhaps this is also about lack of guidelines as to how reviews are done and what their ultimate aim is.
Enter the Alter Ego…
Getting the reviewers (or managers) to “behave” is however only a small part of the process.
The imposter syndrome is prevalent among academics, the fear that your ideas are not that great.
Especially for younger researchers who are unfamiliar with the journal processes and do not necessarily have yet a strong track record, even just the submission process can seem fraught with difficulties.
So what would it take to increase the confidence of researchers to trust that their ideas are good enough and should be at least submitted to peer-review?
Luckily I have been reading an amazing book by Todd Herman “The Alter Ego Effect” The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life”.
Now, before you dismiss the idea and question whatever this has to do with academia and submitting papers, entertain me just a bit more with answering this question:
What would Superman think of his ideas and skills?
What if Wonder Woman would be submitting a manuscript, would she question her aims and goals, and just back off because the process seems challenging?
Anyone who has seen the movie Wonder Woman knows that she is driven by a higher calling to protect the innocent and is unwavering in her quest to do so.
Even if she does not understand all the rules of the game and how humans behave, she still is persistent and consistent in what she believes in.
Building confidence is about the mind and the emotions.
Why not use a mental game to boost your confidence, learn to trust your instincts and actually get published for those ideas that you think can make a difference?
Talking to a colleague about the book, she asked me whether that is quite fake to pretend to be someone else and whether that’s helpful.
If you visit the Alter Ego Effect website, you can see what I mean.
Alter egos help us to focus on qualities that we admire and would like to possess, just like we look up to role models or people in our scientific field or organisation and wish we could attain some of their skills and greatness.
Mental toughness and mental games are part of controlling our emotions as well as aligning our emotions to the goals and outcomes we wish to achieve.
It’s about what qualities we bring to the field of play and what characteristics we decide to embody in different situations to achieve excellence.
If this works for elite sports professionals, business moguls and worldwide music superstars (and if you read the book you see what I mean), why would this not work for adaptation scientists?
Embrace innovation and be persistent
I think one of the main challenges in embracing innovation are the consistent and persistent voices in our heads as to what do others think.
Nowhere is this more daunting when starting your career, whether it’s stepping up to a manager role the first time or starting a degree.
The key for me has been gaining confidence, by talking about my ideas openly and being ready to accept both criticism and support for whatever I have to say.
Writing this blog each week is a true test of that.
It’s very much a learning process and one that is a constant battle between putting sometimes unfinished thoughts out there with the full knowledge that some of those might not resonate with whoever reads the blog.
But writing this blog gives me something rare:
a rare opportunity to step away from the scientific writing formats and exploring ideas in a space where I don’t get (at least not immediately) slammed for these thoughts.
It has also taught me vulnerability and persistence: putting my own ideas out there and also being persistent in writing every week.
In the end, much of what we do and how we perceive the world is about the mental game and the stories we tell ourselves.
Alter egos or not, I think we can all learn to cut more slack to each other and for ourselves as well, and keep confidence in our ability to come out with kick ass ideas.