While I should be writing the foreword to the book of abstracts of the conference “Crossing boundaries” of next (next!!) Friday, I have reached the point when needing to breath deeply, I am just grateful that there is such a thing as blogging (or: how to overcome a particularly miserable week).
Some not enjoyable work experiences of the last days (/weeks/months/years) have lead me to think about what makes a group dynamic work and what can break it. It has comforted me in the idea that a good group leader is someone who is able to recognize where the interests of the different group members lay and find a field where they can overlap and join to become productive.
Although things are not always perfect in my junior research group, I have the feeling that everyone has found his (or more accurately: her) interest in having things work. All in all, sometimes better and sometimes with some hiccups, we work fine together, which can be measured to the fact, for instance, that we are more productive than what our funder expects us to.
As a group leader, I have at first feared to recognize laziness too late in a team member and not be able to do anything about it. But I have to come to think that even if there are people more or less keen to engage in work out of the sheer need of working – and hence different attitudes towards to-do-lists, deadlines, deliverables, etc. -, it is basically in the power of a group leader to give a group some kind of hope and belief in what the group does, to communicate meaningfulness and enthusiasm.
Of course, collaborators being paid for things to work helps. But I still think that even for unpaid or comparatively poorly paid group synergies, if you have an intrinsic interest in the results, you do what is necessary to make things move forward.
In that sense, I have in large parts failed at being a good leader in another work context. I have been trying to understand what went wrong for some time now. There were too many exterior, uncontrollable factors, interacting at too many levels: it certainly did not help. But I have sensed for a whole year that I was – in spite of such time and effort investment that my husband was beginning to consider me completely suicidal regarding to the time loss on the other end of my career needs – simply failing at being a good group leader.
Being a group leader supposes to be able to endure exposure with grace, strength – and uninterrupted self-questioning. It supposes to be certain that the communication with and within the group works properly. It supposes to be able to be despised and mocked just as much as you are being appreciated and encouraged.
When I see how things worked over the past years, the bad things (humiliation, intimidation, envy, plagiarism) and the good ones (realizing much more beautiful things than I ever dreamed of, finding complete trust, working in confidence), I think that when you finally reach some form of power after having been through such a bipolar mill, you have to have an amazingly strong inner compass to not trespass limits in both directions.
Taking the exposure is also about measuring when it is time to hide in the shadow.