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tips for aspiring leaders

Tips for Aspiring Academic Leaders

We have had the pleasure of speaking with many executive leaders of our podcast series, video interviews and various other articles. Given the vast experience they have across the sector, we ask each of them what their advice to aspiring leaders would be. In this series, we speak with Allan Cripps, Georgia Hinton, Greg Craven, James Angus, James Boyd, Robyn Ward and Steve Wesselingh.

We also asked Ccentric Group Managing Director, Wayne Bruce, for his tips for aspiring academic leaders:
My best advice for anyone aspiring to better their career is to ensure you are doing something you enjoy and are passionate about – if you’re not, it might be time to consider a change. Like many people, I “fell” into executive search, it was not a planned career move. However, on entering the industry, I was fortunate enough to have found what I consider my calling or vocation. This is especially so given that Ccentric’s focus is on the healthcare sector – every placement we make has an impact on people’s lives and so we can be proud that we make our own small but important contribution to the betterment of the community through what we do every day.

Allan Cripps

I think that if you get the balance right and avoid burnout; that’s about not trying to do everything but trying to keep it focused.

The other area that I think I would advise a young academic, would be to join productive teams where there’s good mentorship, both in research and teaching and grow within that team to try and develop the skill base and certainly the reputational base to perform and to be promoted.

Georgia Hinton

Travel – meet different people, have different experiences, build networks and take some risks. Keep doing this throughout your career – don’t let work stop you. It’s such an important part of developing you as a person and makes you a more well rounded leader.

Goals are always great, but to be honest I have never had really visionary goals. I sometimes feel they can be restrictive for people.

Don’t get stale in one role or one organisation, move around because that’s how you keep learning, stay refreshed and energised and that’s what makes organisations dynamic and innovative.

Greg Craven

Well, my advice would depend on what you’re asking for. I mean if you’re asking how do you climb the rungs of academia in some ways it hasn’t changed much. The best way to climb the rungs of academia is to be splendidly good at research, and at a certain point if you’re splendidly good at it, and you want it, they’ll take you out, put you in something that research has absolutely nothing to do with and see how you go.

If you’re actually asking how do you train people in a way that’s quality. I’d actually advise young academics to become an academic, but then to get experience outside academia so that you get perspective. In other words, go into the corporate world for a period of time, go into the world of Government for a period of time, and really get an understanding of an area that’s not academia that you can use, and I think that certainly in my own case that’s stood me in very good stead. What it does is it gives you a flexibility of outlook. I mean if you look for example at the whole area of health, one of the things that interests me is that virtually anybody I’ve met who has any understanding of issues of health will invariably come to the view that the number one question is workforce. Almost everyone will agree on that if they know anything about health. It’s remarkable how few academics in the health area will actually start from that premise, but if you were the ministry of health you will start from that premise. So again, I think that’s a question of perspective.

James Angus

I think it’s all about the environment. Choosing your mentor and choosing the lab or the environment. It is critical. So do your homework, ask some questions, go and meet the current PhD students or students who have been through a particular branch and see how they got on, and then you’ll find out very quickly what works and what doesn’t work. It is a bit of a lottery, like choosing a research topic is a bit of a lottery but I’ve always found that if I have two or three projects on the go, they rise and fall and have their own momentum at different times as the science comes and goes. And keep going. Don’t you just, what I’ve always done is work hard and play hard, I think you’ve got to keep yourself very fit. If you’re going to really get into this high level 24/7 but it’s a wonderful tool. I mean being a scientist, teacher, leader now in the medical school I mean I couldn’t ask for anything better.

James Boyd

Academia is not an easy role, funding is not always guaranteed but if you do the right things and put yourself out there, there will be opportunities. It’s about getting good experience as well.

I think it’s important that research and teaching within a university works together to take developments in research and then feed that back into the teaching, so that students understand the changing health landscape.

Robyn Ward

You know I would say. Just do it. I think. Because it’s a lot of people wait for. Permission or to be asked to be a leader. They sort of try to think it’s something that you that being leaders that you just go step up and do it. So if you want to change the world or even change your own environment or do something differently you’ve just gotten to it. Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t wait to get a tap on the shoulder or permission. Just put yourself out there and try and make a difference.

Steve Wesselingh

I think the most important thing is to do what you really want to or what you’re really passionate about, because I often talk to younger clinicians in particular who say, well, I can’t do infectious diseases, as an example, because all the jobs are taken or I can’t do cardiology, or I can’t go into global health because there’s too many global health people. But firstly, it’s very hard to predict where the jobs are. And second, if you choose your job on the basis of whether you know there’s an opening, you’re not going to be passionate about it and the people who really succeed, the Ian Frazer’s of the world or Ingrid Schaefer’s of the world are doing things they love and therefore do them really well, and become internationally renowned, or internationally significant or make a difference. If you don’t do that, then I think if you aspire to leadership, you’re going to find it a lot harder.

Other tips for aspiring leaders:

  • When the opportunity presents itself, grasp it with both hands. Don’t hold yourself back, be considered but also be brave in pursuing interesting options to develop yourself and broaden your experience, skillset and competencies.
  • Most importantly, ensure that you get on with people – of all types and at all levels. The single most important determinant of someone’s future success is the degree to which they are “likable” and trusted and respected by others. Be proud of your successes but also display an appropriate degree of humility and don’t be overly boastful – if you do, people will soon bring you back to earth with a thump.
  • Plan your career into the future, your dream job might take 2, 3 or 4 moves to get to, requiring you to move into different companies and/or job roles to acquire the experience and skills needed for whatever that dream is.

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