10/09/2013 11:49 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Advice on leading during changing, challenging times

Throughout a four-decade career, Dr. Michael Gottesman has led seminal studies in the treatment of drug-resistant cancer cells and played an instrumental role in improving the rigor of medical research as the deputy director for intramural research for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During Gottesman's tenure, he has developed and championed programs to encourage women and minorities to pursue science and come to NIH. He also created special programs that annually train 6,000 individuals, ranging from high-school and college students to post-baccalaureate and post-doctorate fellows.

Gottesman, who is a 2013 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal finalist, spoke about the leadership challenges at the nation's premier health research institution with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

How would you describe your leadership style?

The main tool that I use in terms of leadership is collegiality. NIH has a federated structure--there are 27 institutes and centers. So I work very closely with the institute directors and the scientific directors who are involved and support our research. I work with the clinical directors and with NIH leadership (the director of the NIH and various deputy directors) to come up with ways in which we can support our scientists. So there's a lot of listening.

In this current fiscal environment, how are you attracting top researchers and scientists to the NIH?

We have two strategies. First, we try as best we can to grow a diverse pool of future scientists. We train people at all levels from high-school students all the way up to the most advanced post-doctoral fellows and physicians. And we found that by training people at the NIH, we increase the total number of people who are really quite capable of doing medical research. In terms of recruiting at a more senior level, we obviously have a big problem now because of salary issues and the biggest area of concern relates to physician scientists. Yet we are able to attract people because of the research that's done here, the opportunities for relatively long-term, stable research support, the opportunity to interact with all the other fantastic scientists and the chance to have state of the art equipment and facilities.