Mentor vs. Manager

August 15, 2012 - 4 minutes read

Understand when to mentor and when to manage.  Differentiating between “mentoring” and “managing” is a key distinction that needs to be established between the relationships with the investigator and the directs and/ or researchers.When you manage an individual, you have more of a business relationship which works for the interest of the lab’s mission.  The incentives  tend to be more of monetary rewards.In contrast, when you mentor an individual, it is about the overall training and coaching of the individual. So the reward is more growth and development. The interest is to become like the investigator, a research scientist.  These types of relationships need to be established early on.In academic research management, there’s a combinatory method in maintaining these relationships.  Taking an interest in the personal goals of the direct can help to foster their talent and their passion, which will invariably help to reach the goals of the lab.
Manage individuals through mentorship. Establish a one on one meeting that is regular and consistent.  The consistency of the meetings is to facilitate the management and the topics of the meetings are for mentoring. These types of meetings will prove vital in developing mentoring and managing strategies. The key word is develop.  One meeting at a time will help you to learn about their goals and how to align with the lab’s. Make these sessions about them and the science, not you. Have a key SENSE OF SELF.Many beginning managers tend to impose their will upon others which can go south really fast. In order to avoid uncomfortable opinions and directives, it helps to ask questions.  “How did you come to that hypothesis?” Use leading questions when you find that they’re off course from the agreed upon goals. “Do you really think that’s the best experimental design?” Use these meetings as learning sessions for you and them. When you have a focus on the ideology of biology, you learn a lot about your own life.
I know a lot of this information is obvious and redundant with some managers and business professionals, but in my opinion, this is not necessarily the case with all technical leaders (knowledge workers). There is a learning experience from the beginning for a young investigator.  They’re not only learning to be leaders of science, but leaders of scientists.  They are learning to develop those skills and strategies in order to lead discovery teams of individuals.  If you are young research leader, you now need to learn how to be a “people person”.   

You are the leader; lead.  You are the manager; manage.  “Managers do things right.  Leaders do the right thing.”- P. Drucker.  This is where confidence and a keen sense of self-awareness come into play.  Leadership is required for the overall success of the lab.  People in academic sciences are naturally ambitious. So you don’t have to motivate them, but guide them. Help them to see what they do not. To start, here is a great HBR Article on leadership that can help you to develop some essential tools that will enable you to successfully lead. 
“No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”-Yoda, ESB-SW
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