If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



How to be a better leader

by Brought to you by the ACS Career Navigator
October 3, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 39

Recently, during a multiday event that involved a formal lunch followed by training, the head of the organization came in to say a few words. Instead of using all of his allotted time (or even going over), he spoke for about half of his allotted time. Then he invited participants to ask questions about the ­organization, its history, current projects, future plans, or anything else on their mind. He answered every question directly and honestly, making those in attendance feel respected and informed.

Credit: Shutterstock
Good leaders develop a good following.
An illustration of a school of fish.
Credit: Shutterstock
Good leaders develop a good following.

After the lunch, there was a brief break. A few people stayed behind to rearrange tables and chairs for the next session. The CEO chatted with a few people then commented that he needed to get going to his next event. Someone joked that he could stay and help move tables and chairs. Much to everyone’s surprise, the CEO immediately put down his papers and did just that! Watching him move furniture alongside everyone else, even though it was only for 10 minutes, re-enforced his message of teamwork throughout the organization.

Compare that with how a subcommittee involved in the event responded when asked to do something. After dividing up the tasks, each member did their individual part and then waited for another assignment. They often wandered off when their task was done, and they spent a lot of time looking for each other. They did not help one another and, in fact, often passed each other without any acknowledgment. Although they did get their tasks done, they weren’t really a team.

Why the difference? Why do some groups come together as high-performance, enjoyable teams that accomplish exceptional things, while others only do what they have to in order to get by? In many ways, the culture of any organization starts at the top, with the leader.

Is the leader a member of the team, ready to pitch in when needed? Does he or she truly care about the people on the team, appreciate their hard work, and recognize them as individuals with unique talents, interests, and needs? Is that attitude communicated to the team members? The actions of a leader, much more than words, are what the team will believe.

The real leader of a team may or may not be the person who has the title. A leader may be imposed on a group from the outside, but the true leader will often emerge from the ranks. This is the person to whom team members look for direction and advice. This individual may be out in front, cheering everyone on, or they may lead more quietly, offering suggestions and encouragement. The best leaders do some of each, depending on the team’s needs.

The last time you led a team, how did it go? Are you the type of leader who pushes or pulls? Were you asking people to do things you were unwilling to do? Or did they know that you had their back, that you cared about their success, and that you were willing to do whatever it took to ensure their success?

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.