What Makes an Effective Leader?
In this week’s Q&A, we’re tackling things a bit differently. Natalie LaFranzo, Director of Scientific Projects and Market Development, and JT Forys, Director of Operations at Cofactor Genomics are both sharing insights into managing people and leadership. Natalie and JT share who they admire most and their different approaches to management.
Natalie: The first question is for you, JT. What’s your favorite part about working in a dynamic company like Cofactor?
JT: For me, the best part of working at a growing and evolving company like Cofactor Genomics is the fact that every day is a new challenge. I have the opportunity to work with different types of people at Cofactor with different backgrounds and different areas of expertise. It provides an opportunity might not be available at a larger company where you’re a little bit more pigeonholed in the types of jobs that you can do. This part is really great for professional growth. I never would have imagined I would contributing my thoughts into something like marketing content but that’s the type of thing that you get at a company like Cofactor.
JT: The next question is for you Natalie. How do you balance your management or leadership responsibilities with your personal goals?
Natalie: That’s a great question. It definitely requires time management and intentionally setting aside time to talk to people one on one. I focus on thinking more about the strategic imperatives instead of the day to day tactical. I’ve had to organize my time around what’s urgent and what’s important and then the strategic or long term goals. I’ve realized that sometimes things that appear urgent may not be and it’s important to make time to sit down and understand the needs and goals of others. I think it’s necessary to have a combination of time management and really thinking about the the difference between the urgent and important.
JT: Why is it important to understand what motivates the people you lead?
Natalie: I think it’s more than just making the time for those sorts of conversations like we talked about earlier and more about getting to know people on a personal level. I try to understand what motivates them, what their values are, and what drives them. When we think about the number of hours that are spent at work, it’s really important to feel respected and valued because you’re dedicating so much time time to what you’re doing. Setting aside time to talk to people about what their interests are and what drives them is important. Are they driven by financial gains, or are they more altruistic and want to understand how they’re contributing to the bigger vision? Do they prefer public praise or is it more important for them to have a one on one conversation where feedback is provided privately? Is there anything else that they’re really driven by or a strength that they want to capitalize on? Having these conversations and making time to better understand people can help you in the long run. This knowledge can help when making strategic plans and planning future projects by matching individuals with work that will help fulfill both their personal and professional goals.
Natalie: What are some of the qualities that you believe define a good leader?
JT: At the top of my list is that they’re knowledgeable. Some of the best leaders that I have interacted with in my lifetime have known their craft or subject area inside and out. That’s not to say they have to know everything, but I believe it is necessary to have a strong foundation of the area you’re intending to lead. I think that that does a couple of things. First, it gives you the confidence to make necessary decisions. Secondly, it adds a layer of trust amongst the group that you’ll be able to develop a effective solution to any situation that may arise. I think someone who is thoughtful but doesn’t overthink things will make a great leader. There are certain situations that require a more thoughtful analysis of the situation, and then there’s situations where you make confident decisions and move on, and I think it’s important to be able to distinguish the two. The next one could be considered a little bit old school, but I think a leader must have a strong work ethic and be passionate about what they’re doing. When those two things are true, hard work comes as a byproduct. Lastly, I believe it’s important for a leader to have a sense of humor. If you’re not able to laugh at things that are happening or at yourself or the situations you’ve created, you’re really missing out on something. Being able to laugh as a group is really nice and can sometimes get you through the day.
JT: Natalie, Who do you look up to as a leader?
Natalie: I am most inspired by Dr. Mae Jemison. If you’re not familiar Dr. Mae Jemison, she’s the first African-American woman to become an astronaut. She was first trained as a chemical engineer and then went on to medical school to become a physician and researcher. She is also a dancer. Dr. Jemison talks a lot about how she made the decision between being a doctor and a dancer. She decided if she became a doctor, it would pay the bills and may be an easier career path to follow, but she never wanted to lose her identity as a dancer so even in space she brought part of that with her. The fact that she held onto that part of her identity is inspiring for a couple of different reasons. I think it’s amazing to see someone who’s so passionate about such different topics and she’s not one track minded. She’s very driven and understands the value in being multifaceted and following a passion that may not have the most significant financial gains. I’m also really inspired by her perseverance. Dr. Jemison was a trailblazer and decided on a career path that was not easy. I think her innovation and her ability to think larger than life is really phenomenal. I would love to be better at thinking bigger than what is possible today. She champions the 100 Year Starship Project, which explores the essential technological developments that we would need to have if we were to live in space. This includes what sort of clothes we wear, how would we grow food, and other essentials for for life on another planet or a starship. What she’s asking is, how do we innovate beyond what we know today? I’m really inspired by Dr. Jemison’s ability to think big and follow her passions.
JT: I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of great leaders in my life, but the one that had the biggest impact was my dad. He was a Golf Course Superintendent, so he grew grass and did it really well, which is actually a science. You’ve got to troubleshoot when diseases strike and apply the appropriate chemicals, so I like to think of him as a bit of a scientist. I had the privilege of working with him for a couple of summers while I was in college and he had an interesting teaching style. He would walk me up to a piece of equipment that might have costed $20,000. He would show me the levers, explain how to use it, and so on. Then he’d say, “Go mow the green.” So I would go do it, and inevitably I would make stupid mistakes like mowing something that wasn’t supposed to be mowed or get it stuck. He would look at me, shake his head, call me knucklehead or something silly like that and we would move on. I think that was a really valuable lesson for me because as a leader you give people enough information to do what they need to do, but ultimately, they have to be free to go and make mistakes. Because I was able make mistakes, I got pretty good at doing the job and enjoyed the experience. To me, that’s a whole lot better than someone breathing down your neck and trying to figure it out that way, so I was really thankful to him. The other thing that I admired was that there was absolutely no job ever beneath him. In the summers, it was my job would take the trash off the golf course and if I wasn’t there for some reason, he would do it. I think when you’re in a position of leadership, part of your job is to see things get done so sometimes you go and you tackle it yourself and that’s a really important role of a leader. Being willing to get in there and get your hands dirty and the kind of the other thing that I think was always really. He also never stopped growing professionally. I can remember as a kid when we were sitting around the TV at night getting ready to go to bed, he would be reading his golf turf magazines and tearing out articles to file in a cabinet. He would keep them so he could go back and reference them later if he ever ran into that particular situation. Here’s a guy who I already think is really good at what he does, but he knew that there’s new information coming out and important to keep learning so you can continue to be really good at your craft. I really respected that too. Most importantly, I think a leader has to be good a role model, and he was a fantastic one.
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