Good scientist, good boss?
March 20, 2007 8:48 AM   Subscribe

What books should I recommend to my scientist friend who is having a hard time with being a good manager in his lab?

A friend of mine runs a research lab with a few students, and he seems to be having a hard time with managing the people who work with and for him. He's a good scientist, but has absolutely no experience with managing people . . . and it's hurting him. For example, it seems he has a hard time separating friendships from work relationships (he's a friendly and social guy by nature), has trouble dealing with employees who aren't doing their jobs, and seems to be constantly at odds with his superiors. What can he read in order to learn how to get better at it?
posted by agent99 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

(Sorry, it's not a book.) Tell him to subscribe to the podcasts if he uses iTunes, or just listen to them directly on the site. He should start with the casts on One-on-ones, Feedback, and Coaching, then move on to the other stuff.
posted by misskaz at 9:06 AM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty with the Office of Intramural Training and Education

(They gave a hard copy out free this year to postdocs here at the NIH.)
posted by divka at 9:15 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At the Bench by Kathy Barker
At the Helm by Kathy Barker

The latter is supposed to be the very thing, but I have read only At the Bench, which was very helpful to me when I found myself de facto lab manager with six undergraduates to train and herd. It deals with a little of everything, from setting up the lab to establishing protocols and GLP.

For me, the answer was -- rules. Rules and more rules. We always do this before we do that. Sign the usage sheet. If it's Tuesday, it's Joe's day to flip the flies. When people know what is expected of them, and that everything has to be done for a real reason, that it matters, and everyone else in the lab does it that way, they do it. When it is left to their judgement -- people need a lot of experience and maturity to work together in a lab without making each other's life hell.

And no radio -- as much as it pained me personally to make that rule -- since I was there all day long! -- it was way better that way. Otherwise intelligent people are such whiny little bitches over music.
posted by Methylviolet at 9:18 AM on March 20, 2007

The Accidental Manager provides some helpful information for new or otherwise unskilled managers. I've counted on it from time to time.

Your friend has some bigger challenges ahead besides just reading a book; he's going to have to learn how to manage his relationships, his time and his resources. That may or may not be a problem for him. At the end of the day he may need to decide that he'd prefer to be an excellent individual contributor rather than a manager of projects or other people.

Some companies allow for career growth outside of the traditional "management chain" and if he can get in good with one of them, he may be happier.
posted by diastematic at 9:19 AM on March 20, 2007

First, Break All the Rules is the result of a years-long Gallup Organization study on what makes the most successful managers, across a broad range of industries and experience levels.

The book's approach is very tangible and not all blue-sky and fluffy... which might appeal to your scientist friend. The research and methodologies contributed to a linear success path, of "the twelve key dimensions that describe great workgroups."

It's not nearly as simple as "do steps A & B, get result C"... but it's much closer to that than some of the softer, philosophy-oriented stuff out there that can only be parsed with an HR background or lots of managerial experience.

And, readability and a practical tone make it is easy to immediately apply the book's suggestions to one's own situation, so it's a quick-start helper.
posted by pineapple at 9:42 AM on March 20, 2007

Books in the Harvard Business Essentials series are clear and brief, and an excellent place to start. I recommend the Time Management title in particular, as many of the difficulties managers run into have as much to do with their own time pressures (how and what to delegate, how much time to spend on which issues, &c.) as anything else.
posted by breezeway at 10:31 AM on March 20, 2007

Maybe he has trouble with Emotional Intelligence, i.e. reading people, adjusting his tone/attitude/expression to the person/situation.
posted by radioamy at 12:21 PM on March 20, 2007

Seconding At the Helm. Also try sciences next wave: much advice there.

It references divkas link, which is awesome. There's plenty of other career advice there too.

I'd also be wary about recommending non-specific management bollocks from other environemnts: Scientific academia is not Corporate land. Certainly pick and choose, but a science specific publication is probably better.
posted by lalochezia at 10:03 PM on March 20, 2007

And no radio -- as much as it pained me personally to make that rule -- since I was there all day long! -- it was way better that way. Otherwise intelligent people are such whiny little bitches over music.

No, no, no, no, not a good idea. It's the only thing that keeps me sane. In our labs, the person doing the crappiest job gets to choose the station. It makes cleaning beakers with burnt on urine slightly more palatable.

From an underling's point of view, the best managers know their stuff, know what's going on, trust and listen to their underlings, keep as much bureaucratic nonsense as possible off their underlings desk, and set up intuitive and logical systems for things that they continuously improve, or allow to be improved. They also have high expectations of their staff, but are available to help a a moments notice.
posted by kjs4 at 11:06 PM on March 20, 2007

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