What It Takes: Becoming a STEM Leader

Which leadership skills are most critical in STEM, and how can you develop them at Abbott?

HIRE EXPERIENCE     |    Dec. 05, 2019

What is Good Leadership?

STEM leadership typically centers around three different but complementary characteristics, including the ability to do the following:

  • Lead the business: You can't successfully lead a team until you know where you're going, how to get there and why the journey is worth taking. Good leaders understand how their teams and projects fit into the organization's overall mission. They set strategies to maximize their team's contributions and align their teams around those strategies.
  • Lead the team: To do their best work, people need an environment that inspires them. Great leaders motivate others through a shared vision and trust. They take ownership of successes and failures, and they work to develop potential leaders.
  • Lead toward the future: Maintaining the status quo isn't enough for a STEM leader. Especially in healthcare, progress is as important as today's innovation. Forward-thinking, insight-driven leaders continuously read about emerging technology, learn about new business trends and best practices, and network with other industry experts to stay ahead of disruptions and opportunities.

Some of these leadership skills might come easily to you. Others take time to learn. But, there is one thing all good leaders have in common: They are always striving to be better.

How to be a Successful STEM Leader

According to senior leaders at Abbott, there are things you can do to set you on the path to be a strong STEM leader:

1. Practice servant leadership.

Leadership isn't about having power; it's about empowering others.

Heidi Hinrichs, divisional vice president of cardiac rhythm management clinical and regulatory affairs at Abbott, defines servant leadership this way: "Empowering my employees so they can be making the right decisions and leading the way on clinical evidence and the clinical strategy. Because in the clinical space, it's also about empowering the patient and trying to ensure that we're providing products that really keep the patient in mind — technologies that connect the patient to their healthcare and empower them with knowledge about their healthcare. And empowering physicians with data so they can make better decisions."

2. Share ownership.

Good leaders take ownership for their team's success. Great leaders share ownership, which inspires success.

"Most people are looking to prove themselves," says Ann Graves, divisional vice president of cardiac rhythm regulatory affairs at Abbott. "They need a little guidance, but if I was in there every step of the way, telling them what to do, they wouldn't grow. I make sure the objectives are clear and have a lot of regular check-ins to find out how things are going, but I try to get people who can run with it, and that's worked really well."

3. Build a culture of communication, trust and transparency.

People do their most innovative work when they feel confident about their role and trust their leaders.

Pat Cole, site director at Abbott's FreeStyle Libre facility, says her job is to "create an environment where people bring their best to work every day and feel they can really innovate and contribute for the long term as well as short term."

Cole keeps this in mind when hiring other leaders: "I'm typically looking at how they approach leadership. How do they get people to follow them? How do they get people to trust them? How do they engage people, so they want to come to work?"

And ultimately, no one has all the answers, and people trust leaders who admit that.

"A transparent approach is very helpful, versus trying to act like you know everything," says Graves. "Even if you have 20 years in a field, that doesn't mean you know everything, especially since things are always changing. Being honest and respectful in your communication goes a tremendously long way. Often, that means letting other people speak and taking the time to listen."

Ways to Build Your Leadership Skills

How can you develop your leadership skills and grow your career, and how can Abbott help with that process? Here are three steps you can take:

1. Seek diverse experiences.

Leadership development begins with career development, says John Frels, Vice President of R&D for Abbott core laboratory diagnostics.

"Our new employees usually establish themselves as a solid engineer or scientist during their first few projects. After gaining some experience there might be an opportunity to branch out into another part of our business.  These diverse career paths really round you out and help to develop deep knowledge and experience. Being exposed to different parts of our business shapes your thinking and helps you become a better leader and integrator."

2. Find mentors.

Who better to help you become a STEM leader than actual STEM leaders? Throughout her career at Abbott, Hinrichs has been on both sides of the mentoring relationship.

"One mentor, years ago, did a phenomenal job teaching me how to empower and inspire my employees," she says. "And part of that was learning that it's OK to be silly. It's OK not to know things and to be humble and fun. I had always been the lone female in my career, so I was more serious because I thought that would make people take me more seriously. That was a turning point in my career."

Today, Hinrichs seeks out people to mentor: "I reach out to certain individuals who I think have talent, and I talk to them about that talent and how to have more opportunities down the road with the company."

3. Choose a company that provides opportunities for career and leadership development.

How do you find mentors and other development opportunities at Abbott?  Frels suggests two possible paths:

"One way would be through a grassroots, ‘build your network’ approach.  We all know people from other parts of the organization, and a lot of times you'll ask, 'Can we have a career discussion or just a one-on-one talk about this or that, or would you be willing to mentor me on this topic?'  Then, there's a more organized process around talent management.  We review our leadership talent throughout the organization multiple times a year.  We check on how they are doing in their roles and if they are being developed.  Would they be better served in their current role or a new one?  Abbott is pretty good at trying to develop talent through diverse roles."

Just Start Leading

The opportunities to lead are there, says Frels.

"For those who desire to lead projects and teams and take on bigger challenges for the business, we want to identify and develop those people. Those folks do well at Abbott."

Being a strong STEM leader means consistently challenging yourself in an ever-evolving industry. It starts with a solid background in science and technology, but to come alive as a successful leader in this field it takes experience, mentorship and training — all of which you can find at Abbott.