Gareth English, Customer Psychology: Why is Leadership Development important for dementia researchers?

Posted on the 28th May 2021

“In pursuit of RAD’s mission, we aim to instil a ‘Formula 1 attitude’ to accelerate the pace of solutions development in dementia research.  To do this, we have worked with people from several F1 teams to learn about the culture and practices that make them successful.  Key elements of a successful F1 culture are leadership, communication, collaboration and teamwork – all of which drive problem-solving and innovation.  So we have created a development programme for RAD’s early career dementia scientists, to help fast-track their development to become leaders in their field.”

Dr Penny Moyle, RAD CEO

In May and June, Gareth English from Customer Psychology is working with the team to help them have great impact and influence in their communication, building on work they did earlier in the year around personality type and personal leadership style (facilitated by RAD CEO and Business Psychologist, Penny Moyle).

Here, Gareth shares how Leadership Development can make an impact in the world of scientific research.

Why are Race Against Dementia providing leadership development to their Research Fellows? Surely they should be getting on with their job of researching? Why aren’t they learning more biology rather than psychology?

Race Against Dementia is about applying Formula 1 thinking to dementia research. It’s about providing dementia researchers with opportunities to learn from the F1 attitude, and about accelerating the pace of solving problems. It was this pace of problem-solving that really impressed me the first time I worked with an F1 team. And it was the chance to be part of something different that attracted me to working with Race Against Dementia and their Research Fellows.

I’m a Business Psychologist and I’ve worked in leadership development all over the world for organisations from high tech giants to bio start-ups and from investment funds to international charities. Still, there is something different about F1. This difference lies somewhere between the passion I heard from a young engineer as she talked about the sound and feeling of starting up the engines, or the urgency on the factory floor to make the car better. Not just better for next year mind, but better for next week!

Technical skills vs. leadership skills

Being a dementia researcher isn’t all about sitting in the lab all day bubbling coloured liquids through test tubes. Being a successful researcher involves leading a team. You need to create a vision for your research goals. There are graduate students and research assistants who need engaging, motivating and directing. There are other researchers worldwide who know things that you’d like to know, and you want their insight. There are limited resources in the University and you need to ensure that your research gets what it deserves. And of course there are the people who fund your work who need to understand the impact you’re making. These are the skills of leaders. So alongside their brilliant scientific skills, research scientists need all of these leadership skills. Most University science programmes are great at producing brilliant scientists, but they tend to rely on learning leadership slowly by practice alone.

For me this is how the F1 mindset plays out in the RAD Fellows’ programme. It’s about that urgency, pace and even impatience. Why wait years hoping these leadership skills will develop by themselves? Years when a Dementia Research Fellow may not get the resources they deserve because someone else is shouting louder. Years when they can’t get the aid they need from someone the other side of the world because that person is too busy.

This is why I was excited to get involved. RAD says ‘Why wait?’. By providing the Fellows with the kinds of world-class leadership development they’d get if they were working in a commercial organisation, or even F1, then this whole process can be accelerated. The research happens faster.

 

The biggest single factor influencing our success is how we work as a team. Great teams only come with good leadership, not just at the top of the organisation, but throughout. So one of the biggest challenges for F1 engineers as they progress in their careers is how to develop the leadership skills required to harness the team around them. Learning and fine-tuning the skills to lead different groups and in different situations is not easy, and requires concerted effort in just the same way as honing technical skills. Supporting our engineers to develop these skills is therefore fundamental to developing a race winning organisation.

Dave Wheater, Head of Aerodynamics, Williams Racing

When the Fellows requested some help to enhance their influencing skills, I naturally thought of Gareth, whose leadership development work already spans both scientists and F1.  His sessions have been brilliant, not only in honing their communication skills, but also in furthering their development as a collaborative team.

Dr Penny Moyle, RAD CEO

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