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Series: Leadership for women in STEMM - what's it about? (1/5)

Many individuals who choose STEMM careers have an innate curiosity and ambition to create positive change in the world. This requires leadership. And many of the skills and competencies and mindset characteristics that make a good scientist are the same as those that make a good leader. Yet in many ways, this is not yet common knowledge.

You are potentially the world’s best kept secret.

Are leaders born or can they be made? The answer is both. And either way, to become an effective leader is a journey of identity development and practical skills, just like a series of experiments where results inform the next series of tests. Importantly too, leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. Leadership is a big broad topic that continues to fascinate scholars, practitioners, and business leaders around the world.

Antonakis et al. (2004) noted that because of the complex nature of leadership, a specific and widely accepted definition of leadership does not exist and might never be found. However, it is generally accepted that leadership is the ability to inspire and direct a group of people to achieve a common goal. This is done by people applying their leadership attributes.

Leaders create commitment and enthusiasm amongst followers to achieve goals. Leadership is achieved through interaction between leader, follower and environment.

In 2006, AQR International, a UK-based leading consultancy specialising in developing Mental Toughness in leaders and organisations carried out a comprehensive study and found that the leaders examined had their origins in the same components. These were 6 scales which represented different aspects of leadership style and 5 core leadership competencies crucial for leadership effectiveness:

  • Determination to deliver – the single mindedness to achieve. Most satisfaction from both the leader and the followers is derived from this

  • Engaging with individuals – this describes enhancing the capability, confidence and commitment of individuals to perform and to fulfill themselves

  • Engaging with the whole team – the emphasis is on cross-functional teamworking

  • The ability to make and implement hard, often, painful decisions for the good of the organisation

  • “Suggestibility” – the ability to communicate in such a way that you present a picture of the future that is not yet fully formed.

The 6 scales of leadership style are below. Importantly, a leader’s adopted style is influenced by the degree of mental toughness and mental sensitivity.

This “next future” requires mastery of virtual leadership skills

With the impacts of Covid19, all workplaces and educational institutions have had to adopt new ways of working. This has been a swift and sudden change which is giving rise to a new era of leadership development. Traditional leadership approaches in office and laboratory settings now need to be adapted to suit the dynamic nature of a distributed workforce. Virtual leadership skills will play a big role in the future STEMM leadership development, job satisfaction, retention and well-being of leaders and team members alike.

Communication skills, conflict resolution, self-management and self-leadership, leader-as-coach and generative dialogue skills are to become vital for leaders and their team members with this shift to remote work groups becoming the norm.

Change and growth can be hard. Resilience in itself is no longer enough. We need to adopt the next level mindset which combines both Resilience and Confidence known as Mental Toughness. The next 4 articles will explore the psychological construct of Mental Toughness within the context of Leadership development for women in STEMM.


Antonakis, John & Cianciolo, A. & Sternberg, R (2004) The Nature of Leadership

Strycharczyk D & Clough P (2015) Developing Mental Toughness

With thanks - this article was written by Lia Zalums.

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