Strategic Lab Leadership Program Expands to Labs Across Country
In 2007, a new leadership training initiative for scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermi Accelerator National Laboratory was launched as a small pilot project. This fall, the training initiative launched its latest cohort as a highly sought-after program that includes participants from US Department of Energy labs across the country.
The Strategic Laboratory Leadership Program is a graduate-free Chicago Booth executive training program for scientists and laboratory staff with high potential to develop leadership skills from world-class faculty, network with peers, and prepare. to higher management roles. The program returned in September with a new hybrid format: 12 virtual sessions taught by professors at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and a two-day in-person wrap-up program.
Over the years, the program has been so successful that it has grown, offering two sessions to cohorts from six additional national laboratories. Since its inception, the program has trained more than 300 national laboratory professionals in the areas of strategy, change management and innovation. Many former participants of the program have been promoted within their laboratories or have taken up managerial positions in other laboratories.
“The Strategic Laboratory Leadership Program has become the gold standard for laboratory leadership development programs,” said Juan de Pablo, Vice President of National Laboratories, Science Strategy, Innovation and Global Initiatives at UChicago. “As part of the University of Chicago Joint Task Force Initiative, this has been the key to success at Argonne and Fermilab. We have continuously worked to ensure that these sessions help develop leaders who will propel our national laboratories into the future, and laboratories across the country are starting to notice how successful this program has been.
Exploit great intellectual curiosity
Key to the program’s success are Harry Davis, Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management at Booth, who helped develop the program in 2006. At the time, he was on a committee at Argonne responsible for to investigate some of the cultural issues that affected security. This work led to a leadership program proposal involving both Argonne and Fermilab.
When he spoke to the staff at Argonne, he found that promising leaders wanted more training in interdisciplinary collaboration and innovative and strategic thinking. Davis and others in the Labs and Booth have developed a program not only to teach leadership skills, but also to give members of the Argonne and Fermilab lab a chance to work together on a real mission from a senior leader involving a strategic challenge, then present their findings to UChicago and laboratory management.
“We wanted to expose senior scientists and support staff to relevant leadership and strategy concepts, but also provide the opportunity to apply them in a cross-functional team made up of members from both labs,” said Davis. “There was a great intellectual curiosity, and everyone realized that we have to keep doing it, given the challenges that the labs face. “
Mark Peters was part of this first cohort. At the time, he was Associate Laboratory Director at Argonne. After the program, he headed the Idaho National Laboratory and is now executive vice president of laboratory operations at Battelle, a not-for-profit science and technology development company. He counts Davis as a lifelong mentor.
“I learned how to build a strategy, how to bring a team, how your leadership role sometimes requires you to play different roles, depending on the situation,” said Peters. “But most of all, I remember how Harry taught us to lead from the heart. It’s something I take with me wherever I go.
Creation of a new network
Sandra Charles, now Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Fermilab, participated in the program in 2019.
“SLLP has helped me hone my people and project management skills,” she said. “The program challenged me to think deeply about strategic planning and change management, informed by the perspectives of peers from Fermilab and other national laboratories. Since participating in the program, the the lessons I learned from SLLP both through theory and introspection, have helped shape my approach to leadership in my role at Fermilab.
Participants have also become an essential resource for national laboratories as they come together to solve difficult problems. When Fermilab’s former COO, Kate Gregory, and her colleagues started thinking about centralizing facility management in 2020, they knew that such a large and complex project would require the right kind of communication and implementation.
So they turned to alumni of the Strategic Leadership Lab program. Scientists and Fermilab staff who participated in the program had been working on a project involving change management, and senior management was eager to share their knowledge.
“They were able to coach our senior leaders throughout the process,” said Gregory. “It made this big change a lot less risky and a lot more successful.”
Finding the best leadership approach
When Mike Edelen started SLLP in 2019, he was already climbing the ranks at Argonne. A former Navy submarine officer, he was used to a regimented military life and initially struggled to adjust to the new rhythm and new hierarchies in the laboratory. When he discovered Davis’ approach to leadership – bringing different “characters” to different situations, as needed – he realized he was already practicing it in his role as Interim Division Manager. for environmental health and safety.
“Now I’m able to internalize which style is the best approach for a situation,” said Edelen, who is now a division manager. “It helps me better prepare for difficult conversations. The program also taught me to self-reflect – what worked, what didn’t – which I still do on a regular basis.
That, said Kim Sawyer, chief operating officer of Argonne, is one of the great benefits of the program.
“I always say we don’t take the time to learn about ourselves,” she said. “We’re good at studying scientific systems, but this program allows individuals to learn how situations affect them and how they can approach situations differently. It has become a rite of passage.
Each year, Argonne receives so many applications for the program that it has to prioritize registrations. “There is a huge appetite to develop leaders within national laboratories,” said Paul Kearns, director of Argonne. “Many of our senior leaders here at Argonne have completed the program and we see it as a critical part of building and sustaining our world-class talent community. “
Become a courageous leader
For Yun He at Fermilab, the program offered a chance to think about the lab beyond his role as a project manager.
“I was more technical, focused on my own work in my own silo,” she said. “But thanks to the program, I learned a different mindset. Now, I’m looking at areas in which to make improvements, make an impact, and develop a community that will allow our members to connect and have a better sense of belonging.
Now a group leader, she even brings this state of mind outside of her work. As the co-leader of the Asia-Pacific Association Laboratory Resource Group at Fermilab, she took the initiative to promote communication and cross-cultural resources within the group and allies after the COVID-pandemic. 19 led to a rise in anti-Asian sentiment.
“It was a wake-up call for me to step out of my comfort zone, seize the opportunity and be a courageous leader,” she said.
“A lot of people think that leadership is based on position,” said Nigel Lockyer, director of Fermilab. “But we believe leadership is about how you act and perform. Anyone can be a leader, and this program helps our scientists and staff understand that and helps us be the best we can be. “
Establishment of a peer network
Six national laboratories outside of Chicago are now part of the cohort: Idaho National Laboratory, Jefferson Lab, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Ames Laboratory.
This year, the cohort will follow three learning tracks: a classroom track with online and in-person sessions; a strategic discovery experimentation track that puts participants in teams to work on a vast strategic project that looks at the future of work in laboratories; and a personal development track that teaches personal leadership with feedback from professional coaches. The new sessions include lessons on artificial intelligence and effective communication.
Now that the program has expanded to labs across the country, participants will benefit from a national network with which they can work to solve problems and compare solutions. Due to demand, the program has also added a second cohort which will begin in January.
“Participants don’t just learn leadership, they find a network that energizes them, that gives them a way to continue learning throughout their lives,” said Davis.
The Strategic Lab Leadership Program is supported by the University of Chicago Joint Task Force Initiative, a program dedicated to helping Argonne and Fermilab succeed in their mission by opening up channels of frequent communication and collaboration between institutions. .
For more information about the program, contact Lisbeth Brilliant, Associate Director, Chicago Booth Executive Education.