In this episode of
Expert Insights for the Research Training Community, senior
scientists Dr. Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton University, and
Dr. Guy Padbury, senior vice president of preclinical development at
Merck, discuss making the transition from peer to supervisor, creating an
organizational culture, and evolving as a leader. They also compare and
contrast aspects of leadership within academic and industrial settings.
The original recording of this episode took place as a webinar on June 25,
2020, with NIGMS host Dr. Judith Greenberg. A Q&A session with webinar
attendees followed Dr. Tilghman and Dr. Padbury’s talk.
Recorded on June 25, 2020
Download Recording [MP3]
Welcome to Expert Insights for the Research Training Community—A podcast
from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Adapted from
our webinar series, this is where the biomedical research community can
connect with fellow scientists to gain valuable insights.
Dr. Judith Greenberg:
Good afternoon. I’m Judith Greenberg, deputy director of NIGMS, and I’m
pleased to welcome you to another one of our webinars for NIGMS
trainees. Before I start, I want to offer some thanks to our
communications team for publicizing these webinars, to our IT staff for
making them run as smoothly as they have been, to all of you who are
participating today, and most of all to our speakers.
Today’s webinar is entitled Leadership and Management as a Scientist,
and we’re very, very privileged to hear from two outstanding scientists
who are true leaders in academia and industry. So I’m going to be very
brief in my introductions of Dr. Shirley Tilghman and Dr. Guy Padbury
because they are going to be telling you about their own career paths.
Just briefly, Dr. Tilghman is currently a professor of molecular biology
and public affairs at Princeton University and she was an investigator
of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1988 to 2001. In 2001, she
was named the 19th president of Princeton University, a position that
she held for 12 years. Since returning to the faculty, she’s taught and
worked on reforming the biomedical research enterprise with a focus on
improving career prospects for young scientists.
Dr. Padbury is currently the senior vice president of pre-clinical
development for Merck Research Laboratories, with responsibilities for
three global scientific disciplines supporting drug discovery and
development. He is a 30-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry,
where he has served in both scientific and managerial roles at Amgen,
Pharmacia, and Pfizer. As a first-generation college graduate, he has a
strong commitment to STEM education, personal mentoring, and enabling
the career success of others.
So at this point, let me turn it over to them. Thank you, Shirley and
Dr. Shirley Tilghman:
Thank you, Judith. So Judith has given you the outlines of my career.
Let me just fill in some of the gaps there.
To begin with, I started my independent research career in the 1970s, at
a time when it was relatively easy to get an independent research career
underway and to begin to be an independent scientist. For the next 25,
30 years, I never dreamed about doing anything except being a scientist
and running a lab. I thought it was the most wonderful way that you
could ever spend your life.
And in the course of that period, as my laboratory grew and as I became
more and more involved with doing things that could be broadly
characterized as leadership, being involved, for example, in NIH study
sections and eventually NIH councils, I basically learned how to be an
academic leader by doing. I was never taught how to do these things; it
was simply a matter of learning by doing.
Perhaps, for me, the biggest surprise was when I was very unexpectedly
asked to be a candidate to be the president of Princeton. And once I was
given that extraordinary position, one of the things I learned is that
all of the things I had learned about leadership and management in
running my laboratory were actually very applicable as I began to take
on the leadership of the university. Not 100 percent. And there were
clearly some differences in scale that I had to think about and learn
But being in a laboratory and managing a group of scientists was
actually very, very good preparation for learning how to run a very,
very large research university. And Guy and I are going to talk about
what some of those lessons that we learned along the way are, and to see
the degrees to which they are actually pretty similar between the two of
So, Guy, I’m going to turn it over to you.
Dr. Guy Padbury:
Thanks, Shirley, and thank you, Judith.
So as a counterpoint, I’m the industrial representative today, but there
are lots of parallels. I’m a biochemist originally by training. I’m a
first-generation college graduate.
I started my career at Dow Pharmaceuticals right after my B.S. degree,
and I was very fortunate to have a mentor that kicked me out and sent me
off to graduate school, where I became a biochemist. I re-entered the
industry in the late ’80s with what is the Upjohn company, and through
the late ’80s through the ’90s, lived through the consolidation of the
industry where mergers and integrations were essentially the common
practice, and through that, had the opportunity to get some well-earned
skills by doing, tying into Shirley’s comments about how to manage
through organizational change management. My arc through that has been
I started as the bench scientist, as a drug metabolism scientist, and I
worked my way up formally through the managerial ranks. I have to admit,
I never really had specific ambition to take on any of the roles that I
have had the good fortune to do. Opportunities were presented myself,
and some of them happened to be at the right time where I was ready to
scare myself by taking on a challenge I wasn’t sure I was able to do.
And as Shirley indicated, while I think I was very well trained in terms
of the scientific method, nothing trained me for the human, social,
architecture, and psychology elements that come along with the business.
And consistent with Shirley, a lot of the lessons that I learned very
early on in starting my scientific lab I carried on into my managerial
roles and refined and expanded. And they evolve with time as your
responsibilities expand, but they remain the foundation, essentially, in
terms of all of the interactions and all of the various roles that I’ve
had the opportunity to do.
So as Shirley indicated, when we put our heads together to figure out
how to do this webinar, the similarities were very striking, and so
rather than us each take our own path in lessons learned, we decided to
put our heads together and kind of identify some of those ones that were
the most thematic or the most impactful during our career and provide
the context of that from both an academic and an industrial setting, and
hopefully we’ll do that for maybe 10 or 15 minutes at most, as Judith
What we’re really interested in doing is getting the questions from you
all as you’re getting ready to make these transitions. And the tougher
the questions, the better, I think, from our standpoint. As we say,
there’s nothing in the way that we’re formally trained that trains us in
these dimensions. Shirley and I both have plenty of scar tissue from
which we’ve learned how to do these roles, and we’re happy to maybe help
you avoid a few of those mistakes that we’ve made along the way.
So with that, I’ll turn it back to Shirley for our first speaking point.
One of the earliest transitions that you have to make as a scientist is
when you go from being a trainee, whether it’s a graduate student or a
postdoc, to becoming an individual who is now responsible for the
careers of other people. Whether it’s in academia or in industry, very
soon you are suddenly a manager, and of course, as Guy just emphasized,
none of us were trained to do this. But for me, the hardest part of
making that particular transition was learning.
And it really was a learning process, learning how to set boundaries
between my role as the head of the laboratory and my trainees. And this
is especially difficult in the beginning because often the people who
are in your laboratory in the early days are often not just younger than
you, but there are going to be times when they’re actually your same
age; they’re your peer at least in age. But your roles are different.
And without becoming someone who is isolating from the people in your
lab, you’ve got to learn basically how to set the right set of
boundaries with them so that you are their colleague, to be sure,
because you’re trying to encourage them to begin their path to becoming
an independent scientist, but at the same time, your roles are not the
So going in knowing that this is going to be a challenge, which I didn’t
know at the time, is much more helpful, I think, in thinking through the
role that you are going to play. And not just while they are in your
laboratory, but remember, those people in your laboratory in those early
days are actually going to be depending upon you for support during
their career, for letters of recommendation, so it’s just the case that
your roles are different, and thinking through how that looks for you
with your own personality is really important, I think, in the very
Yeah, I would say very similar. That move from peer to manager, even
though you might very naturally have strong affiliation with the
individuals given your proximity in age and experience, is a very
significant watch out that none of us were warned about as we made that
I think one of the other things is not something that I did, because I
just kind of waded right in and started to figure it out, but if I was
to do it all over again, I would try and take some of the burden off of
my new hires, whether those are trainees or young staff. You’re going to
hire individuals that are very young in their career. They may come from
different cultural backgrounds with different cultural norms. And their
skill in being able to read a social dynamic is still maturing. And so
to Shirley’s point, as you have to set up these boundaries, it’s not
necessarily reasonable to expect that they will pick up on them, and so
my recommendation would be to define these boundaries very early on and
help to manage their expectations of you and with you by declaring those
proactively and consistently very early on.
Don’t necessarily assume that one time will be enough. And take some of
the burden off of them trying to figure out how they need to interact
with you. Explain to them what your expectations of them are, how you
like to see the data, how you like to be communicated with, whether you
like to see the materials in advance or just walking in real time is
good for you. Let them know what some of your social cueing is, to be
able to read the room if you’re immersed in a paper, doing peer review,
or writing a grant and the door is closed, whether you’re off bounds or
free to be knocked and interrupted. So you can take a lot of the stress
off of their shoulders by very early on defining what your leadership
and your operational principles are, codifying them to some extent, and
communicating them, especially as you’re starting your new lab, whether
in industry or academics.
But it’s likely going to need to be repeated until you have some
institutional knowledge within your laboratory that other members of
your laboratory start to pass that down as here’s what not to do around
Guy, or here’s how Guy likes to see the data or get information. Or if
he’s eating his lunch, let him be for a few minutes. He uses that as
quiet time. So I think you can really help those initial dynamics by
being very purposeful about that, very proactive, taking some of the
burden off of them from figuring out who you are and how you like to
I’m laughing at Guy’s last point, because one of my very first postdocs,
who has gone on to have an extremely successful career, used to corner
me before I’d even opened my door, and before I’d had my cup of coffee,
and want to have long conversations about his data that he had collected
overnight. And finally, I had to say, “Here are the rules. The rules are
you don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee. And it ended up being a
much better relationship than having me furious from the moment he
walked into the lab.
You know, I think the second-hardest thing to learn is how to build your
team effectively. And I think one of the things that Guy and I talked
about earlier when we were talking to each other is that there are
individuals who can be team makers and there can be individuals who are
team breakers. And it really matters that you are consistently finding
those individuals who will fit well within the group that you have
Eventually, what I found was one of the most effective ways of doing
this is making sure that decisions about whether to invite someone to
become a member of my lab was actually a team decision. After the
individual had either rotated through the lab in the case of a graduate
student, or visited in the case of a potential postdoc, we would meet
together and we would collectively make the decision about whether this
was someone who would really fit well with the team.
This is meaning that you have to take all kinds of things into
consideration. In addition to whether the person is brilliant, or the
person has done a brilliant piece of work in the past, not all
individuals will at the end of the day contribute productively to a
group effort, which after all is what a laboratory is.
And I think one of the things that we are now very focused on as a
community in the wake of the events of the last four weeks, and
particularly the murder of George Floyd, is that we need to now pay much
greater attention to the diversity of our teams as well. This is
something that I think we have always paid lip service to in the past,
but now there is a deep and profound urgency to when you were thinking
about how to build a team you’re not just thinking about individuals who
will work well together, but you’re thinking about what is the future
workforce going to look like for biomedical science? And if it is not
more diverse than it is today, we will become increasingly anachronistic
to other professions. Guy?
Oh absolutely. I think that last point has been true for many years, at
least in the industry, there have been a variety of different approaches
trying to enrich the diversity of our workforce in a more purposeful
way. But it ultimately comes down to individual decisions, and it starts
with the team that you select and the environment that you create to
make them feel welcome and wanted there. And that goes to Shirley’s
point about instilling a culture that is one that is committed to the
success of each other as a team, as your laboratory culture, and that is
welcoming of all versions of diversity—diversity of thought, diversity
of culture, diversity of background—is critically important.
And with you as a leader, you’re not just hiring a two-dimensional
subject-matter expert resource for your laboratory. This is a part of
your laboratory village, and your first criteria should be hiring good
human beings that will fit and build a part of that society that you
want in your lab. And don’t expect to get it right 100 percent of the
So I think one of the other lessons is when you do inadvertently hire a
team breaker, I think there are two elements. One, you can’t ignore it.
You’ve got to address it, and you’ve got to address it purposefully and
early. And you can’t spend an inordinate amount of time trying to fix
them. Because what that does is it takes your time and energy away from
the other members of the team. And so that does come back to the
boundaries that we talked about earlier.
You may face decisions where somebody is no longer a fit for your
laboratory, and you’ll have to make that decision to help them find a
different opportunity. But ignoring the issue and not addressing it
costs more damage in the collateral of the rest of the team than it is
for that one specific individual—especially as we increasingly, in order
to execute science, work in matrix environments of collaborations or
Another thing I would add about the development of a team is to really
think hard about what the individual strengths and weaknesses of each
one of your team members. They’re not going to be interchangeable. There
are going to be individuals who are going to want to take on the most
impossibly challenging project and want to be left alone basically to
find their way through that project.
And then there are going to be others who really want to talk to you
every single day and want your direction and probably, at least in the
beginning, need your direction. So thinking about each member of your
team and where it is possible to bring out their very best by what you
assign them to do or what you encourage them to do, I think, will at the
end of the day mean that everyone is more productive than they would be
if you were thinking about them as just sort of interchangeable parts of
a larger structure.
I think the way that I frame that is allow the boundaries of what they
can achieve to be their own boundaries and not the environment you
create around them.
One of the things that happens as you move through your career, and
inevitably you will take on more responsibility, whether that is
responsibility in your own institution in your department, whether it is
on the national level or even the international level, you will find
that your attention to what is going on in your own laboratory is going
to be competing with other things. And one of the things that that
really forces you to start to do is to think about where are areas where
I can really trust and delegate to others in the laboratory?
When I was first starting my lab, I felt deeply that I had to be
absolutely on top of every single solitary thing that was going on in
the lab at every moment. I had to be able to do every single experiment
that was going on in my laboratory. I had to comb over every piece of
data that was brought to me by a member of the lab to be sure not only
that I understood it, but that I agreed that it had been conducted
absolutely perfectly. Yes, I’m confessing that I’m a control freak.
But eventually, you realize that mode simply won’t work as your lab
grows, but it also won’t work as you find that your attention is being
taken by other things as well. But figuring out how you can delegate to
others in the lab and how you can learn to trust that delegation,
especially for a control freak, that becomes a really challenging part
of growing your laboratory and leading in other ways besides doing your
I often tell the story that the hardest thing for me in moving to the
presidency at Princeton was realizing that I could not analyze every
single problem that was brought to my desk in great detail. It was
virtually impossible for me to do that, but of course that was my
instinct. My instinct was if I don’t completely understand something,
how could I make a good decision? So part of leadership is learning that
analysis can be done by others, and what people are really looking to
you for is judgment.
Yeah, I would agree. And I think, Shirley, when you relayed that to me
the other day, one of the things you relayed as an important piece of
advice you got was about mistakes and that none of us are infallible.
Mistakes will be made, and I believe you relayed that the advice you got
was recognize it, admit it, and then move on.
And then I think part of our conversation was that’s a culture that you
can also introduce for the people below you. They will make mistakes,
and how you respond to them is a big piece of that culture. And it goes
to that empowerment and delegation.
So if you’re very authoritarian in terms of the way that you approach
those types of things, individuals will abdicate their decision rights
up to you, forcing you to make the decision, as opposed to allowing,
with some safety nets, the lessons of mistakes. They all teach us
something. There’s a very important component to that.
I think the other thing in that is in the delegation, which is a
struggle both in industry and academics, and it’s probably one of the
harder ones to get through, is focusing on the outcome and not
necessarily the how.
So my lesson was, as I was a young leader of a drug metabolism
organization, I think it was Pharmacia at the time, and I had three
young directors working for me. And about 15 minutes into a meeting, one
of my directors asked me politely to please stop. And I said, “What do
you mean?” And she goes, “Well, I would prefer to be my own person and
not be a little Guy.”
And what I was doing, with very well intentions, was trying to have them
adopt my style and approach. And I think in today’s world I wasn’t
appreciating diversity of approach. And it was a very sobering message
to receive, but it was the right one, and I think it’s one that we all
struggle with through that kind of transition.
Yeah, and I think one of the things that is really important to model
for your team is the ability to apologize. I’ve seen so many people who
make a mistake and then rationalize it, justify it, defend it, instead
of learning relatively early that just saying, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.
I apologize. Together let’s figure out how to make this better.”
And the remarkable thing about learning how to do that is it’s so much
easier than doing the other, which is the defending and the explaining
and the justifying, which often ties you into knots. So not being afraid
to say you were wrong and to apologize, as Guy said, is if you do it,
your team will feel empowered to do it as well.
And if I have to think about what is the greatest risk for a leader of
any organization, it is not being told the truth. I had a colleague of
mine who used to come into my office and say, “Tell me what I’m not
hearing. Tell me what I should know and no one is telling me. I need to
know what no one is telling me.”
And if you’re not signaling all the time that you are open to bad news,
whether it is an experiment that didn’t work for the 10th time or
whether it is something that is really consequential to the
organization, if people aren’t coming in with bad news, then you’re
going to be caught blind.
I think, Judith, we have one more point we’d like to make, and then
we’ll see if there are any questions.
There will be.
Shirley, would you like to take the lead on the last point?
Yeah, a lesson that I happily learned well before I assumed a major
leadership role like the presidency of the university was that it is
absolutely critical as you get more and more senior leadership positions
that your ego gratification, which is very important that you have ego
gratification, that it comes from the success of others and not from
things that you are directly responsible for. And if you can’t see
yourself getting to that position, then you probably shouldn’t be
seeking leadership positions, because that is really where the
satisfaction of the job ultimately comes from is being able to celebrate
other people’s success.
I remember being with one of my deans at a very large alumni gathering,
and I was suggesting that she speak for the longest period. And she
said, “I don’t want to steal your thunder.” I said, “For God’s sake, you
are my thunder!” And I think that’s the right way to be thinking about
how to really lead by caring deeply about the success of others.
I’m going to pile on that one. I think when we were discussing it, we
were talking about the concept of servant leadership, where you’re
committed to the success of others. I think key pieces of that are being
generous with credit and acknowledgement in little things, whether it’s
an acknowledgement on the slide, “data courtesy of,” or it’s attribution
of the ideas or the analysis of the data or the insight. And
increasingly as you go on, that should become much more nuanced.
When I talk with my young leaders, I tell them to get comfortable with
forensic leadership. And when they ask me what I mean, I say, “Well, if
you’re a really good leader with the preponderance of all the forensic
shows, somebody needs to come and dust your people with fingerprint
powder and then turn on a blue light or black light for them to see the
imprint that you’ve had on them.” And success is when the people around
you feel that the success is their own, and it may have been a very
gentle nudge or request somewhere along the line that you’ve asked of
them that’s been the foundation for that success, and you allow them
full credit and recognition for that.
But to your point is that you have to find other mechanisms from which
to feel your sense of professional fulfillment that aren’t necessarily
the ones that feed the external ego quite as demonstrably as when we are
younger professionals. So Judith, I think with that we’ll hit the pause
button and see what else is coming in.
So we have a lot of questions, but let me start with one that came in
early, and I think it’s an important one. Shirley, you talked about
having decisions about who was going to join your lab be a team
decision. The concern that was raised in this question was that the
people sharing the decision making with you may not have been trained to
understand such things as unconscious bias, and how do you train your
group so that they can make good decisions?
I think one of the things I am most hopeful about with respect
particularly to issues around diversity and inclusion is that we now
finally understand the phenomenon of unconscious bias. I think for years
we all went around pretending that if we said we were unbiased, we
clearly were unbiased. And I think many organizations now understand
that it’s critical, particularly for people who are making personnel
decisions, to have the kind of training that alerts them to the fact
that none of us is without bias, without bias of one kind or another.
So I think going forward, having the availability of that kind of
training, and that training is available in many institutions now, but
it’s also available online. There are some very good programs that you
can recommend to the people who you supervise if you’re giving them that
kind of ability to make decisions so that they can be aware of this as
well. The other thing is, of course, to talk about it prior to making
I might add a couple of tactics that we use. In many cases, the hiring
groups may not necessarily have…the current diversity doesn’t reflect
what our end state would be, and we often invite individuals in from
other groups to make sure that assessment panel or the interview panel
also reflects the diversity. And that tends to be a very effective
tactic to bring in different voices into the room than maybe the
monastic voice of a very small group if you don’t already have those
dimensions present in the team.
Here are two related questions for Shirley. One has to do with whether
being a woman affected your ability to establish yourself as a scientist
or the acceptance of your leadership. And related to that is whether you
can provide some advice on a female scientist taking on greater roles of
leadership. Are there specific challenges to that?
There certainly were challenges in the beginning. When I was beginning
my independent career, which was in the late 1970s, there were still
relatively few women scientists that one could point to who had had or
were in the middle of highly successful careers. There were some, but
relatively speaking, there were relatively few.
One of the most important lessons I learned, and I learned it very
early, was that one needed to, as a woman, adopt a very professional
demeanor in all scientific interactions. And by that, I’m going to be
very explicit here, to downplay your sexuality and to downplay sort of
overly overt signs of femininity. I think basically the way I used to
describe it to myself is I kind of put a plexiglass shield in front of
myself and made sure that that plexiglass shield was always in place.
Whether that is still a requirement today to really get beyond several
experiences that I had early on where I think I didn’t have that shield
properly in place, I’m not so sure. I think now with much greater
participation of women in science, thank God, particularly in biological
sciences, the expectation that a woman scientist is a professional first
is, I think, much more real. But in the beginning, it was a challenge.
But I would still argue that thinking about that plexiglass shield is a
good way to proceed until you believe it is not needed anymore.
For both of you, a question is, how do you handle successes and failures
of members of your team—for example, acceptance or rejection of
manuscripts? How do you counsel or deal with people who have either
great successes or great failures?
[Chuckling] Shirley, you want to go first?
No, you go first.
I would say it’s fit for purpose. This is one of the things that we now
talk about as we look for leaders. It’s not just the IQ; it’s the EQ.
And understanding for individuals, they’ll require different things, but
one is the reinforcement is we all have failures, right? None of us is
perfect, and this is a normal part of the growth curve and the learning
experience that we all go on.
The second is understanding what they need from you. In some cases, they
just want a sounding board. They just need a venting exercise. And
they’ll pick themselves up, and they’ll move forward. In other cases,
they want your active engagement to help fix the problem.
Or in other cases, they just want advice. So when I have those
interactions with staff I ask them three questions: What role do you
want me to play? Am I psychologist, am I advisor, or am I rolling up my
sleeves and picking up the tools and helping you fix it? And that helps
them decide what they need from you. And then it goes back to that
servant leadership. Because my natural inclination is to pick up the
tools and go in, and that may not necessarily be the right tactic for
I wouldn’t add very much at all to what Guy has said but underline that
the answer to that question is really person-specific. There are
individuals who are deeply pessimistic, and when they fail, they expect
it. And there are people who are deeply optimistic, and when they fail,
they can’t believe it. And you’ve got to handle those two situations
quite differently. So it is very situationally specific. There isn’t a
one size fits all.
You both talked about learning by doing, and you both implied at least
that your leadership positions happened to you without great intention
of them happening. But a question is, supposing you know as a young
investigator that you do want to aim toward leadership positions. Are
there things that you can do more proactively to help yourself along?
Maybe I’ll speak from the perspective of academia, and the answer to
that question is absolutely yes, there are things you can do.
One of them is, I hate to say it, but learn by doing. Volunteer for
positions within your department, within your university where you will
be exposed to a broader set of issues. You will have to function in a
different kind of team, often people whose disciplines are very, very
different from you. Learn what you’re good at. I think that’s one of the
most important things. And the only way to learn that is by trying out
different kinds of roles.
The good thing is that I am seeing now in academia a much greater
understanding that leadership actually can be learned, that there are
training programs that universities are establishing for young faculty
that help them learn how to be more effective in a group setting in a
leadership position. And certainly if you know early on that this is
something that you’re interested in, I would highly encourage you to
seek out those kinds of training programs when they exist at your
institution. But start small—being on the graduate admission committee
and then chairing it. Being on a university committee and then chairing
That’s a way to find out whether you are good at it, and most
importantly whether you enjoy it. Because that kind of leadership is not
for everyone. Not everyone is going to really flourish in those kinds of
roles. And learning whether you’re one of those people early is a good
I would echo that. I think those are great examples, and if I can just
add a layer to that. Is what those kind of experiences do is you’re
exercising different muscles.
You’re not relying on your subject-matter expertise to have impact and
influence. You’re developing and experiencing influence without
authority, and those are the kind of situations that really give you
skill sets to be a broader organizational or an enterprise leader. That
you develop your communication skills to convince others to follow a
path. You get insights into the diversity of human psychology and
groupthink and how to manage. You get experience, I call it from
managing from the front of the room in a command-and-control experience
versus the back of the room, which might be via the Socratic method and
asking certain questions. So those kind of experiences are really good
for developing those other muscle sets.
I might also add two points. One, be introspective on these soft skills.
And what I ask at my year-end reviews with my leaders, I ask them, “How
have you become a better leader this year than you were a year ago?” And
I’m not interested in the things that they have done, but I’m interested
in the skills that they’ve acquired through doing those things. And that
starts to give different optics to the way you look at the experiences
that you have and translate them into skills that you might need in
larger organization situations.
And the other part is become a hunter-gatherer. Get yourself a notebook.
If you have the opportunity to spend time with Shirley, watch how she
handles things. Make a reflection on how she answered the questions
today. What did you like about what she did?
On the other things, take notes about me. Guy didn’t do that one so
well. And keep that record of the things that you want to emulate. And
then you don’t have to parrot them, but understand the principles and
take those things that you feel fit your personality and your style and
start to adopt and practice them.
And then another tactic is if you’re trying one of these skills (I call
it coaching the room), ask one of your peers, “I’m going to try a little
something out. After the meeting, could you let me know how it went?” So
there are these smaller tactics that you can do on a daily basis or a
situational basis to try and develop this other set of muscles. One of
my friends described it as, as scientists we develop, if we’re tennis
players, we’ve got this amazing forearm, and the social skills is the
backhand, and we don’t practice that stroke too often. So get into
situations where you can practice your backhand a little.
How do you or did you balance family and work?
My usual answer is with smoke and mirrors. But more seriously, I have a
couple of ways of thinking about it. The practical, let me tell you
about the practical first. The practical is organization, having
structures in place that will help you through a normal day but also
structures in place that help you in an emergency. So being really
deliberate about how to build your safety net, because no matter what
you’re going to need a safety net. You’re going to need those times when
something comes up that you just can’t deal with because of
But probably the more important way that I think I got through the
balancing of family and work was by refusing, deliberately, to feel
guilty. So when I was at work, I did not sit around feeling guilty that
I was not baking cookies for the school party, that I was not at home
taking care of my infant, that I was not doing all the things that my
mother, for example, had done for me. And when it was 5:30 and I left
the lab and I went to pick up the children, I did not for one minute
feel guilty that I was not in the lab with everyone else still doing
experiments or writing papers or whatever you do in a laboratory.
And cultivating that lack of guilt. Sometimes I call it just being kind
to yourself. You’re only one person. There are only 24 hours in a day.
Both of those things are extraordinarily important to you as a person,
so you do each as well as you can, and you do it with no guilt.
Awesome. How do you follow that?
It takes discipline.
Yes. I would say a couple of things, and I’ll echo. Recognize that my
experience is probably very different than Shirley’s and my wife’s
experiences also in science. And I think it’s fair for me to acknowledge
that it wasn’t an equitable split, and if she were listening in here,
I’m sure she would be correcting me all through what I’m about to say.
But first is priority. You will gravitate to the things that are
important to you, and for me it’s always been family first. And so
there’s two elements of that.
One, as an organizational leader, I am very clear about that with
anybody that works in my organization is it’s family first. We will
figure out a way of working around the science and the other
administrative responsibilities. So you, as laboratory leaders, have the
opportunity of setting that goal for the people that work for you.
The second part is consistent with what Shirley articulated. Articulate
very clearly and openly that that is a value proposition for you and a
priority, and that what people can expect of you is that you have
boundary conditions that in a certain period of time…and I was on
daycare pickup. My wife did drop off and I was on pickup. At 4:30, I was
out of the office. And I was out of the office and offline until 9:00,
after I’d read to the kids going to bed, and then I was back on. And so
setting and managing expectations is a good tactic for that as well.
And then there are going to be points in your career when you’re going
to have to make a hard decision of what’s important to you. In my
personal history, I have declined jobs that were a meaningful step up
because it was at the wrong times in terms of my family management.
And my decision to leave Pfizer, where I was the global head of the drug
metabolism organization, which was a group of about 600 across the
globe, to a smaller role at Amgen was because my sons were in high
school, and I was on the road all the time, away from the dinner table.
And so be prepared to make tough decisions that are aligned with those
priorities. If you want other people to respect them, you have to
emulate that it’s important to you. Otherwise, it will be taken
I think one of the other lessons that I learned along the way is that if
you’re clear about those priorities to others, they will respond. I’m
thinking of being elected to probably the most important committee at
Princeton when I was a faculty member, which oversees all of the
promotions and appointments at the senior level in the university.
And I was told that that meeting happens with the president every Monday
and Thursday morning at 8:00. And when I was told that, I said, “Well,
I’m going to have to decline because there is simply no way that I could
be anywhere except feeding breakfast to my children at 8:00 in the
And lo and behold they moved the meeting to 9:00. The first time they’d
ever moved a meeting in the history of the senior administration. But it
was probably the first time that someone had spoken up and said, “That’s
just not a family-friendly hour to hold a meeting.” And I think that had
an impact for years afterwards in the university when meetings were
scheduled at times that simply made it impossible for people with family
responsibilities to participate. So sometimes speaking up is the right
thing to do.
The two of you have been incredibly successful in your careers and in
your leadership. I have a question here about what your biggest
challenges were or are as leaders, and how do you deal with those
Guy, do you want to go first?
I will go first on this one.
Perhaps more true in the second half of my career than the first half of
my career is the isolation of the position. So to the point that Shirley
was relaying earlier is setting boundaries. You can have affiliation to
the people that you work with, but you have to keep a certain distance
because of the responsibilities that you have. And as a result of that,
some people will try and take advantage of that relationship with you,
and so you have to keep that distance.
And it’s very hard, especially in the science industry, and I suspect in
academics, is where the social interactions and professional
interactions overlap a little bit. You can find yourself, by keeping
these boundaries, in a very isolated space. So it’s very important to
develop healthy networks outside of your institution and maybe even
outside of your professional discipline.
So for me, you can see the junk on the shelf behind me. I took up
woodcarving just to get out and join a woodcarving club to have
interactions with individuals that completely had no ties to the company
or the business that I did. I think that has been my biggest struggle,
and particularly in the second half of my career.
That’s such an interesting answer, Guy, because I would have almost said
exactly the same thing.
For me, the biggest challenge was moving from being a faculty member,
just in the process of founding a genomics institute at Princeton, to
suddenly being the president. And the first thing that happened is I
realized suddenly none of my friends were calling me. And when I finally
reached out to them, they said, “Well, you’re way too busy. We realize
you’re not going to have time to go to the movies, and you’re not going
to have time to have dinner with us. We’re just going to leave you alone
because we understand you’re so busy.”
And of course, that was the last thing I needed is to suddenly have no
friends. So learning
that I was going to have to do the inviting. I was going to have to do
the reaching out. I was going to have to be the one to say, “Hey, you
want to go to a movie on Friday night?” So that isolation was really
painful. It was painful.
The other is almost the opposite, and that is suddenly literally
everything I said was taken literally and amplified in the jungle
telegraph of Princeton University. So practically within the first week
I had, in response to a question about my religious affiliation, I said,
“Oh, I’m an atheist. I’ve been an atheist all my life.” That became sort
of the cause celebre for the next six months at Princeton.
And the other thing was saying to a reporter at the Boston Globe that
what Princeton needs are more students with green hair. And I swear
that’s going to be on my epitaph as a statement. And so suddenly, as
someone who probably uses humor a lot in who I am, I suddenly realized
that I had to be much more careful about what I say, particularly in
public, but often also in private. That I just didn’t have the freedom
of expression that I had in my other life.
I think the other side of that same coin is other individuals, “Shirley
said,” or “Guy said thou shalt,” and it being used, which may have just
been a question on your part.
And the Princeton version of this is that the building I worked in was
called Nassau Hall—still is called Nassau Hall—and so what I would often
hear was, “Well, Nassau Hall says…” and suddenly I thought, “Oh my God,
I’ve stopped being a person and I’ve become a building.”
So Shirley and Guy, we have about three minutes or so. I have one more
question here, which you’re free to answer or just tell us any words of
wisdom for about a minute. And the question is, if you had the
opportunity to do your career over, what’s the one thing that you would
change about your leadership style or approach? But feel free to say
Which one do I pick? I think I’ll go back to some of the earlier
comments. As a young leader, I would try and fix people. And I would
take that very heavy, and to the point I made earlier, in doing so I
neglected others. And my success rate was abysmal.
I think mine is it took me a very long time to know how to deliver bad
news and to do it well. In the beginning, I just avoided it because I
didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m Canadian, what can I say? And
so it took me a long time to learn that I was doing more harm by
avoiding delivering bad news than I intended. And so for me, I wish I
had learned earlier the skill of delivering bad news without having
greater harm than needed be accomplished.
That one resonates too.
So I want to thank both of you. This was terrific. It was enlightening.
I hope everybody who was listening…
I would have used “stressful.”
Well, let me remind everybody that the webinar is, as you know, recorded
and it’s going to be archived. So in a couple of days, you will find it
on the NIGMS website, along with all of the other webinars that we’ve
had during the summer. So I invite you to go back if you missed any of
them, to take a look at them, and also to look at that website for the
schedule of the upcoming webinars, because we have a number of other
interesting ones coming up this month. So again, Guy and Shirley, thank
you so, so much, and we were delighted to have you.
It was a pleasure.
It was. Stressful, but a pleasure.
I’m glad I met Guy!
Thank you. Bye.
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