TUM Management Insights

Transformational leaders in science – what managers can learn from them

When thinking about effective leadership, we often look to the business world for best practices. But are there also lessons to be learned from unusual leadership contexts like academia? Professor Claudia Peus and Dr. Susanne Braun from the Chair for Research and Science Management asked what impact leadership style has on the scientific output of research teams. A study of 39 teams showed that teams with a leader employing a so-called transformational style reported better publication performance. How can this relationship be explained? Transformational leaders communicate a clear vision that unites a team in working towards a common research goal, while being aware that each team member is an individual. These leaders know their employees and take into consideration the strengths, weaknesses and personal goals of every team member, thus enabling every researcher in the team to develop and grow. Furthermore, they encourage their teams to reflect critically and ask questions – a key skill for every researcher. In doing so, transformational leaders create trust in the team, meaning that team members trust each other and their leader more, since transformational leaders act as role models and “walk the talk”.

The authors thus conclude that this provides an answer to the question: How should we lead in science? These lessons are not only true for science, but are something every manager can profit from. Create a transformational leadership culture within your team by communicating a motivating vision, considering and developing each team member according to their individual strengths and goals, and creating a culture of critical reflection. In doing this, it is important to be aware that you are a role model and to reflect on whether or not you practice what you preach.e

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