Think about a time when you worked in a team or organization that succeeded and got things done. What was the role of leadership?  What skills and actions helped the group accomplish its goals? What happens when those leadership skills and actions aren’t present?  What role can you play to help the group succeed? The IGC fellows had the opportunity to discuss these questions and put their leadership skills to the test during a recent IGC seminar class.

Effective leadership can be more than just one person leading while others follow. The class discussed a new method of leadership presented by the Center for Creative Leadership, focused on three outcomes: direction, alignment, and commitment (DAC). The DAC model of leadership breaks the mold of the traditional “leader-follower” model. It applies to situations when no one has authority over all the stakeholders, such as when people work in different labs, departments, organizations, or nations. Leadership happens when members of a group 1) agree on what their vision and goals are (direction), 2) clearly understand their roles and objectives within the group (alignment), and 3) make the success of the group a priority (commitment). The class discussed the utility of the DAC model for conducting interdisciplinary research, because there is often no clear lead, but instead many strong personalities and competing ideas and motivations.

The class then discussed the characteristics of effective teams using the five keys to a successful Google team. Google researchers interviewed their employees to identify the key characteristics that describe successful teams, including providing psychologically safe work spaces and demonstrating the meaning and impact of the group’s work. The class was unsure on how easily some of the characteristics could be developed in team settings; while teams can work to provide psychologically safe environments, the class felt identifying the meaning and impact of work was placed more on the individual. Next, the class discussed active listening, a skill leaders and team members can use to improve the efficacy of their work. Thanks to some help from the communicating science center, the class was able to practice listening skills through several communication activities. For example, fellows divided into pairs and discussed their day by starting their sentence with the last word of the other person’s sentence.

Finally, the class learned a tool to provide meaningful and constructive feedback, the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model. The model provides an outline people can use to provide feedback, which includes defining the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of the situation you want to give feedback on, describing the specific behaviors you want to address, and using “I” statements to describe how the other person’s actions affected you and others. The class participated in another communicating science activity, where they worked in teams to develop infomercials for an imaginary product they made up. After their infomercials, the groups had the chance to use the SBI model to provide feedback on how the infomercial went and how they could have improved their work as a team.

We learned that leadership can take many forms. We can each lead from where we are and practice leadership skills that help the group gain direction, alignment, and commitment. Understanding the key components of leadership, and the skills and qualities of effective teams, is critical to our research, our careers, and addressing global change.

Bennett Grooms is a 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Fish and Wildlife conservation, advised by Dr. Ashley Dayer. He is studying the human dimensions of wildlife recreationists in Virginia.