Listening, Learning, and Leading Through a Crisis

This pandemic is a reminder that as leaders we must be adaptable and draw from all of our past experiences in order to be effective. It is a reminder that teams that are diverse in background and experience are very powerful and must be cultivated so that organizations can survive—and even thrive—during challenging times. I have found that the more diverse the pool of experience I have been able to draw from, the more successful I have been. Listening and learning are the keys to my success.

I am passionate about science and the law. These passions led me to obtain a PhD in molecular biology from Princeton University in 1999 and a law degree from Columbia Law School in 2002. Since then, I have welcomed every opportunity to make science and the law easy to understand and accessible for everyone. I regularly sit on panels directed at introducing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and legal careers to underrepresented youth. These occasions allow me to hone my ability to explain complicated concepts in a way that someone with no science or legal background can understand, while having an impact on diverse communities.

Twenty years after finishing my PhD, the basic concepts and skills I learned as a scientist have become extremely relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. My experience as a scientist has created additional opportunities for me to lead during this time by teaching my colleagues what they need to know in order to stay safe. It also allows me to evaluate and appreciate scientific data, so that I can anticipate scenarios that will exist weeks in advance to steer teams in directions that will benefit my organization.

This pandemic has also been a reminder that teams diverse in background and experience are critical to competent leadership during a crisis. I have found this to be especially true when all team members feel included, respected, and engaged. I make it a priority to reach out and carefully listen to everyone on my team. With each interaction, I aspire to learn at least one new piece of information from each team member that will strengthen and broaden my perspective. I firmly believe that great leaders are skilled at learning what each team member can best contribute and encouraging that contribution.

The current pandemic has influenced my leadership style by reminding me how important it is to remember that everything I have experienced in my life is just practice and preparation for the next challenge or the next crisis.