Thursday, September 03, 2015


I was asked recently to write something about my leadership style / management philosophy. As a startup CEO I led a team of ~35, and now my office has something like 350 FTEs. Eventually, hands on leadership becomes impossible and one needs general principles that can be broadly conveyed.
I have a “no drama” leadership style. We try to be as rational and unbiased as possible in making decisions, always working in the long term interests of the institution and to advance human knowledge. I ask that everyone on my team try to understand all sides of a difficult issue to the point that they can, if asked, effectively argue other perspectives. This exercise helps overcome cognitive biases. My unit tries to be entirely “transparent” -- we want other players at the university to understand the rationale and evidence behind our specific decisions. We want our resource allocations to be predictable, justifiable, and as free from petty politics as possible. Other units view members of my team as effective professionals who can be relied on to do the right thing.
One of the toughest aspects of my current job is the wide variety of things I have to look at -- technologies and research projects across the spectrum from biomedical to engineering to fundamental physics to social science and the humanities. Total NSF + DOE funding at MSU ranks in the top 10 (very close to top 5) among US universities.

The most important principle I advance to my senior staff is epistemic caution together with pragmatism.

See also this interview (startups) and Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People :-)

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