Photo by Brooks Rice from Unsplash

Developing the Science Leaders the World Needs Now

By Karen McLeod

Aug 19, 2020

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Minute Read

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Nothing can dim the light which shines from within. – Maya Angelou

For 20 years, COMPASS has supported thousands of scientists to reimagine their roles as changemakers. We’re committed to creating a future where people and nature can thrive, and our experience shows us that investing in leaders is a powerful way to realize that vision. To this end, we’ve built a suite of transformative Leadership Programs that weave together elements of personal development with COMPASS’s science communication and engagement training. When emerging science leaders fully step into their purpose, they courageously lead change within themselves, their communities, and society.

Here are some of the things we’ve learned about supporting science leaders to adapt and thrive in this ever-changing and unpredictable world.

Everyone can be a leader

Leaders aren’t necessarily the most senior or the most visible or even those with the most authority in the room. Leadership isn’t limited to those who have a certain number of publications, or a tenured position at a prestigious institution, or a million followers on social media. Instead, leaders are people who can build alignment around a shared purpose, no matter their role. We all have arenas where we are leaders. And we can all grow and support others to be leaders, too.

Leadership starts from within

Leading lasting change necessitates that leaders also be open to changing themselves. One component of this is an awareness of your blind spots, growth edges, and strengths. For many of us, seeing our strengths can be the hardest. As one of the current Scientist Sentinels poetically noted, scientists are often “reluctant suns.” To help leaders tap into more of their power, we support them to strengthen their connection to purpose – why do they do what they do? What gives their life meaning and direction? Purposeful leadership provides energy, promotes well-being, and connects us to something larger than ourselves.

Leaders also need the capacity for resilience in the face of stress (as our current conditions remind us of daily!). Being centered fuels openness and connection to others, and is conducive to skillful action. Resilience for the long haul is especially important for scientists engaging in emotionally laborious work on topics like social and environmental justice, climate change, and biodiversity loss. We help leaders become more skillful in responding to the world from a centered place, rather than a reactive one.

Leaders blossom within supportive communities

Something we’ve heard repeatedly from those in our leadership programs is just how valuable it is to experience the sense of belonging that forms within a mutually-supportive network of peers. For many scientists, feeling like you’ve found your people – like-minded, inspirational souls, who are driven to make a difference – can be a powerful contrast to the dominant culture of science. Within these communities, you realize the strength that comes from the collective and can tap into the brilliance, networks, and experiences of your peers. We create intentional networks of scientists who are champions for public engagement, who share a commitment to embracing the full spectrum of identities, voices, values, and ways of knowing, and who help one another to bring their whole selves to their science.

Embrace the spectrum of ways to lead change

We partner with scientists to advance the changes they want to see in the world, which can span many scales and contexts. Some science leaders are creating change from within existing systems and institutions. Others are building new alliances and novel partnerships to co-create solutions. Some are pushing to transform the institutions of science, resource management, and policy as we know them today. There are as many ways to show up and lead change as there are scientists seeking to make a difference. We’re here to support you across the vast spectrum of science leadership possibilities.

We’ve worked hard to build leadership programs that speak to the needs of the scientists we serve (and sometimes to needs they didn’t even realize they had!). We’re also continuously learning and evolving what we offer – so please, let us know what you need right now on your journey to lead change for a world where people and nature can thrive.

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