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Habitudes of STEM Leaders

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In our recent columns, we've discussed the dearth of U.S. students choosing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math ("STEM").

Today, we want to discuss the behavior set, mindset and belief system of STEM leaders.

We call these habitudes -- because success is a combination of disciplined habits and battle-hard attitudes.

1. Insatiable curiosity

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education." - Albert Einstein.

The most renowned leaders and learners are curious about everything. In 2009, Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider became the 9th and 10th women to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Greider called it "a tremendous victory for curiosity driven science. We had a simple question of how chromosomes are maintained. It turns out there are major medical implications."

Nurture your curiosity, and let it drive you.

2. Audacious imagination

Imagination is not just for kids. Discovery, innovation, creativity, and learning all begin with imagination. We all have creative potential to dig a bit deeper, stretch ourselves farther, and dream bigger. You can increase your exposure to new ideas, look for new patterns and see how you can combine ideas to improve upon existing strategies and solutions.

Learn to tap into this capacity by using one of my favorite strategies called SCAMPER. Let the processes guide you in through the journey of looking for new ideas and craft your strategy to how to implement those ideas creatively. Opportunity awaits you.

3. Fearless learning

A desire to learn new things is key to success in STEM. Eric Hoffer captured it best when he said, "In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." Don't be equipped for irrelevance -- keep learning. The moment you proclaim yourself to be "expert," a "guru," or "master of your domain," your days are numbered.

4. Unwavering persistence and perseverance

I have learned that most things of lasting value take time and discipline to achieve. There will be times when you want to turn around, pack it up, and call it quits. Like any ability we wish to master, a level of commitment and discipline is required.

5. Realistic optimism

No doubt, we live in challenging and complex times. As a leader, your ability to be hopeful and dispense hope is crucial to helping those you serve thrive in face of difficulty. During a recent illness, I wanted to get out of bed well before the doctor recommended so I could get on with changing the world. A friend explained to me "The Stockdale Paradox." Admiral Stockdale spent seven years as one of the most senior-ranking American prisoners of war in Vietnam, and was tortured more than 20 times. His experience spawned a philosophy that is now well known in management circles as "The Stockdale Paradox":

"You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end -- which you can never afford to lose -- with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

Can you think of a better prescription for a STEM leader?

6. Resilience

Resilience involves being able to change direction. Failure is easy to repeat. You simply do the exact same thing you did previously while expecting the result to be different. It takes effort to consider alternative approaches and to maintain the hope that making such changes can yield better results.

Sometimes these alternative approaches are found only in moments of dark despair. Einstein considered the theory of relativity for a decade, and after a grueling discussion with a friend, announced that he was defeated and giving up his quest. Late that night, a "storm broke loose" in his mind and he solved the theory.

A STEM leader with these habitudes holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources and acts strategically before abandoning or applying a tactic or strategy.

To get good at this, you have to:

• Seek patterns in data and encourage others to do the same
• Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously
• Plan for roadblocks and commit to efforts to overcome potential setbacks.

Some questions to ponder:

• How resilient are you in face of challenge?
• How am I modeling resilience in my behavior and actions?
• How do I convey the importance of resilience to others who face challenges and obstacles?

What other habitudes do you witness in STEM leaders?