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Why Leadership Is The Most Important Transferable Skill For PhDs


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Skip ahead to:

0:10 – Show Me the Data
14:10 – Why Leadership Is The Most Important Transferable Skill For PhDs w/ Peter Bregman
40:40 – Immigration Concepts That International PhDs Looking To Work In The US Must Know   w/ Brian Getson

What does it mean to be a leader? 

Do you know how to communicate your leadership skills to employers?

In this episode of Cheeky Scientist Radio, Author, Speaker, CEO and Leadership Expert, Peter Bregman, discusses how PhDs can develop their leadership skills and become great leaders in industry. Peter gives us strategies to assess and close your leadership skill gap. Plus we have on immigration lawyer, Brian Getson, who discusses key concepts and intricacies of visas, green cards, and immigration.

About Our Guests

Peter Bregman has worked with CEOs and senior leaders to help them create accountability and inspire collective action on their most important work for more than 30 years. He helps leaders to develop their leadership skills, build aligned, collaborative teams, and overcome obstacles to drive results for their organizations. Peter has a deep understanding of both organizations and people and has dedicated his entire career to finding solutions that bring the interests of both together.

He has implemented his proprietary solutions with CEOs and senior leaders in many of the world’s premier organizations, including Allianz, American Express, Brunswick Group, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, FEI, GE Capital, Merck, Clear Channel, Nike, UNICEF, among others. Peter is a sought-after speaker and thought leader in the areas of leadership development, organizational change, productivity and emotional courage.

Peter is the author of the best selling book, Leading With Emotional Courage.

Brian H. Getson, Esq. has extensive experience preparing EB-1A, EB-1B and NIW petitions for scientific researchers throughout the United States. After graduating cum laude from Duke University, Mr. Getson attended The University of Pennsylvania Law School. Upon receiving his law degree in 1995, he joined the Firm and concentrated his practice on immigration law.

Mr. Getson is a frequent speaker on the green card process for scientific researchers at annual meetings of the world’s most prestigious scientific organizations including The American Society for Cell Biology, Materials Research Society, American Chemical Society, The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, American Physical Society, and The American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Key Takeaways

1. The time it takes for 50% of an academic cohort to leave academia has shortened from 35 years in the 1960s to only 5 years in the 2010s.

2. If you’re willing to feel everything, even your most fear emotions, then you can do anything.

3. The four critical elements of leadership are emotional courage, confidence in yourself, connection to others, and commitment to purpose.

The Types Of Cultures In Industry And Why Company Culture Is So Important

A study, recently published in PNAS, found that the number of STEM professionals staying in academia has dropped dramatically over the last 50 years.

The authors looked at cohorts of STEM academics from ecology, astronomy, and robotics. They found that in the 1960s half of those who started their careers in academia were still in academia 30 years later. Which means that 50% a cohort would spend their entire career in academia.

This is very different than what they found for the 2010s. After just 5 years, 50% of the STEM cohort had already left academia.

That means that majority of STEM PhDs are leaving academia after just 5 years. So you must be prepared to get a job outside of the university setting.

And a big part of getting hired in industry is showing a potential employer that you will bring lots of value to their organizations, including the ability to lead.

But what does it mean to be a leader? And what makes a good leader? One McKinsey study, evaluated the leadership traits of the leaders at successful companies vs not-as-successful companies.

The study found that 4 key leadership traits emerged in the most effective leaders: being supportive, operating with a strong results mindset, seeking different perspectives and solving problems effectively.

Why Leadership Is The Most Important Transferable Skill: A Conversation With Peter Bregman

Isaiah: I think would be smart for us to answer is, what exactly is emotional courage?

Peter: So emotional courage is, and in the book I talk about these four elements of leadership. And just looking at what you were talking about beforehand in terms of the four underlying skills that make leaders most effective, and I don’t disagree with those actually I think getting business results, and supporting people and all that stuff’s really important, and what I talk about is what underlays the ability to do that, and it’s these four elements of being confident in yourself, connected to others, committed to purpose, and emotional courage.

We can talk more about them, but they underlay, meaning if you aren’t those four things you’re going to have a hard time driving business results, you’re going to have a very, very hard time supporting other people et cetera. Emotional courage is the willingness to feel things, and this is actually particularly important I think with a PhD audience where you have honed your ability and your mind to think through things in very discerning ways, right?: very rational and discerning ways, and that’s the … you know I don’t have a PhD, I have a masters, but that’s the academic process right, the academic process is very much logic and thinking through things.

Now I’m going to challenge you to do a little activity, which is to think about a hard conversation that you’re not having, a hard conversation that you know you should have, and this is for everybody listening. A conversation you know you should have, you know it’s important, it doesn’t have to be work, it can be personal it can be anything you want. But you know you should have this conversation, but you’ve procrastinated on it, you haven’t had it, and now consider why you haven’t had it. I’m willing to bet you know everything you need to know in order to have it, you have plenty of skills in order to have that conversation, you’ve have time and opportunity.

But if that’s true, then why don’t you follow through on something like that? It’s because there’s something you don’t want to feel, that if you have this hard conversation, you may have to feel conflict, you may have to feel disconnection, you may have to feel their passive aggressiveness after the conversation, you might have to feel your anger, or their anger, you might have to feel shame, or embarrassment, or they might come back at you and you might get defensive, and because you don’t want to feel any of these things, then you’re better off not having the conversation, you hold it off.

But if you’re willing to feel everything, if you’re willing to feel conflict, and failure, and shame, and embarrassment, and defensiveness, and passive aggressive, if you’re willing to feel everything, then you can do anything.

If you think about, this is true for any risk that you take and any … you’re giving a lecture and it’s risky, and you’re going to be approaching it in a certain way, or you’re working in an organization and you have to contradict someone and certainly you need the skill to do it well, but ultimately you need to be willing to feel what you have to feel in order to take the risk to follow through on what’s important to you, and you might feel the insecurity, and the vulnerability of speaking up when nobody else is speaking up and you see something that’s important to raise, and those are emotional issues, those are the sort of, “Do you have the emotional courage, the willingness to feel everything in order to do those hard things?”, and that is the key that unlocks every other element.

Isaiah: Okay, I hate feeling because I’m a thinker. I’m STEM PhD, how can I tiptoe into that? How can I practice? How can I get more comfortable with those feelings?

PeterRight, so first it’s just acknowledge what’s going on. That’s huge, right? To recognize there’s some feelings that are getting in my way and I’m actually really used to thinking. When I work with academics, too I’ll often say something like, “What are you feeling?” The answer will be, “I think I’m feeling xyz”  It’s because we’re so used to leveraging our intellect. The first thing to do is to recognize and begin to notice what you’re feeling. Really begin to feel. That’s actually really important.

Then begin to locate the feeling. Once you’ve done that then you realize oh, this feeling just a sensation. This feeling of insecurity is a sensation and my mind runs wild, everyone’s going to hate me and I’m going to say something stupid and then I’m going to lose all my job opportunities and then, step, step, step, step, step I’m homeless. If you can kind of step away from that a little bit and go oh, I have this sensation and it’s kind of in my chest. This is what it feels like. This is what it feels like to walk into a room of strangers and start to meet them, right?

I think the first step is are you willing to feel? Notice what you’re feeling and notice where you’re feeling it. My two favorite sentences are what are you feeling and where are you feeling it? Notice that. Then, don’t wait for that feeling to go away. I was trying to do some writing. I’ve written four books and I have confidence in my nonfiction in my writing. I don’t have confidence in my fiction writing. I actually don’t think that I’m a very good fiction writer at all. I’ve been having a hard time writing fiction. I said this to a friend of mine and she said, “Well, what’s stopping you? Like you just sit down and you write. What’s stopping you?” I said, and by the way, anyone who is working on your dissertation may be able to connect with this. I said, “You know, I think I’m scared. I think I’m not good. I think I’m scared I don’t know how to do this. I think, you know, I have a reputation. I’m a best seller and now I’m going to write terrible stuff? I’m scared.” She laughed and she said, “Oh, you think you’re supposed to be able to write without feeling scared?”

It was this great ah ha, we wait for the emotion to go away until it feels great to do what we need to do, but the reality is, you have to do that even when it doesn’t feel good the idea is sit down, don’t wait for the fear to go away.

Write while you’re feeling afraid. Write the dissertation while you’re feeling afraid. Walk into that room when it doesn’t feel right to walk in the room and recognize that you’re going to feel that and that’s what it feels like when you walk into a room of strangers and start to connect with people. Walk into that room while you’re feeling insecure and just keep moving and that’s what allows you to develop the emotional courage.

Isaiah: What are the four critical elements of leadership?

Peter: Emotional courage is one. There’s three other ones. It’s confidence in yourself, connection to others, commitment to purpose.

Confidence is not arrogance. Arrogance is I think I’m better than everybody else. Arrogance is born of insecurity. When I’m arrogant it’s actually because I’m not feeling confident. The people that think they’re better than everybody else, who consistently walk in feeling like they’re the smartest guy in the room, or the smartest woman in the room and they know everything. They’re not confident, actually. Confidence, and this is really important for academics.

Confidence is the willingness to say I don’t know something. It’s the willingness to be curious.

All of great academia, all great academic learning and teaching is based on curiosity. Right? You can’t be curious without also being confident. Curiosity is about the unknown. 

Connection to others is what’s going on between us and can I build trustworthy relationships and can I trust you and be trusted by you? Can I see you and appreciate you and be seen and appreciated by you? You can not lead without confidence and connection. There are people who are strong in one and not strong in the other. I could be super confident and not very connected, in which case it’s still all about me. Even if I’m willing to not know, even if I’m … It’s still all about me and I don’t care what’s going on for you. Conversely, I could be super connected to you but not particularly confident and then I lose myself. We all know people who will give themselves up to please the people around them.

Here’s a great test of it, especially as an academic, go into a conversation with an opinion and have a conversation with someone with the opposite opinion. This could be anything, it could be politics, it could be your area of expertise, if could be anything. Go in there and have a conversation with them where your opinion isn’t threatened by their opposite opinion and you both leave feeling respected and seen and appreciated. Right?

I don’t have to change my perspective because it’s different than yours, but I also don’t have to change your perspective because it makes me uncomfortable that it’s different than mine. The ability for us to really be able to hold both of those and hold the relationship at the same time is critical in terms of powerful leadership. That’s confidence and connection. 

Commitment to purpose is what is this bigger thing that we’re all going to align behind? This is something we do a lot of work in organizations. Helping them to create collaborative, coherent, productive movement in a particular direction. It’s also about making choices. About what you say no to in order to say yes to other things. That’s really hard. Commitment to purpose is about distinguishing signal from noise. It’s about focusing on what’s most important, right? I could be super committed in my area of study and to purpose and I could think that I’m really committed, but if it’s 15 years and I haven’t written my dissertation yet then the answer is I’m not very good at distinguishing signal from noise. 

Then finally emotional courage, which we just talked about, the willingness to feel. You can not make moves to develop your confidence in yourself, your connection to others and your commitment to purpose without also developing and leveraging your emotional courage, or willingness to feel things because any time you build that you’re going to feel stuff. By the way, this is not like a personality assessment where it’s okay to be strong in some things and weak in others. You really want to, if you’re going to be an effective leader you need to be strong in all four of these things.

Immigration Concepts For International PhDs In The USA: A Conversation with Brian Getson

Isaiah: What is the most common way for foreign nationals to apply for a green card based on employment?

BrianSure, so most foreign nationals who are working in the US that are not conducting scientific research, they have to go through what’s called the PERM Labor Certification process. That involves having an employer sponsor you for the green card. You can’t file on your own and the employer has to conduct recruitment that is mandated by the labor department such as putting ads in Sunday newspapers and conducting other recruitment online in order to show a lack of US worker availability.  In order to show a lack of US worker availability. So for jobs that do not involve scientific research, that’s generally the only option available to obtain a green card.

Isaiah: So what can PhDs do to avoid this and get a green card based on their research accomplishments?

So the theme of today is leadership, Isaiah. And that lends itself to being a leader in your research field. So if you have made scientific accomplishments that have impacted or influenced your field, then you can look to avoid this labor certification process and apply for a green card based on your own research accomplishments.

So everybody listening today should be looking to do that. And there’s three different types of categories where you can obtain a green card based on your research accomplishments. There’s the EB1A category, and that is called Extraordinary Ability Aliens. There is the EB1B category, and that is called Outstanding Professors and Researchers. And there is the EB2 National Interest Waiver category. And what I mean by EB1 and EB2 is there’s different classifications of green cards that is set forth by congress. And there’s something called the Visa Bulletin that is issued by the department of state each month. And if you would just Google Visa Bulletin, you would see it and you would see these different categories.

With EB1A and EB1B, there is a wait to apply for a green card for the entire world as well as China and India. So when I say the entire world, that means everybody other than China and India. And that’s for EB1A and EB1B. For the National Interest Waiver category, there is a wait for China and India, but not for the rest of the world. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. It started for the first time ever in my entire career this past October and it looks like it’s going to remain that way. So the advice now is, if you’re not from China or India, you really should only be thinking about applying in the NIW category because it’s easier than the EB1 category and you don’t have to wait.

There were times in the past where people not from China and India, for various reasons, could get the green card faster in the EB1 category, but it’s not the case anymore. And so if you are from China or India, you still wanna look to the EB1 category, but those are hard.

Watch the full podcast episode above to learn more about developing leadership from Peter Bregman and understanding US immigration from expert Brain Getson.

To get advanced access to the full length versions of these podcasts, as well as access to our live training webinars, exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the waitlist for the Cheeky Scientist Association now.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping people transition into cutting-edge career tracks.

Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.