3 Lessons: Time, Truth, and Tough Calls

Stefano Bertuzzi, executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology, says his leadership formula combines quality time away from the office, people who will tell him how things really are, and a willingness to have difficult conversations.

Stefano Bertuzzi
Executive Director
American Society for Cell Biology
Bethesda, Maryland

Clear time to think.

Every year, I leave town to spend a week by myself in a beautiful place on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I pack my car with a laptop, printer, books, binders, and plenty of notepads so that I can have some time to really try to listen and learn. I consider what has happened the year before and focus on strategic issues away from the day-to-day work. It is one of the most productive weeks of my year.

Acquire some truth-tellers.

Even the best athletes have coaches, people who help them see what they can't alone. It's the same for someone in a leadership position. From day one at ASCB, I made sure to have a couple of people I speak with regularly who can help me see things from a distance. They're not shy about telling me that I am thinking the wrong way or overlooking important aspects in a situation.

Leadership is not a popularity contest.

It is about doing the right thing for your organization. A mentor of mine, former National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni, sometimes had to make difficult decisions he knew would irritate the scientific community. I try to stay away from the complacent mentality of playing along to get along. Uncomfortable conversations will happen, but we work with smart people who want to move the organization and cause forward.