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Guiding Leaders through the Scientific Method

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

The scientific method is an age-old process that guides how questions are answered across the globe. Devised in the 11th century, the scientific method has become integral to how some of the greatest minds of our time answer complex questions in laboratories and academic institutions throughout the world. Yet, it is a simple tool consisting of six basic steps: observe/ask, research, hypothesize, test, analyze and conclude. The power of the scientific method is that it limits shortsightedness in the pursuit of knowledge, which can guide leaders in their roles and in the pursuit of excellence. Leadership is the transformative ability to guide decision making despite any circumstance.

All highly competent people continually search for ways to keep learning, growing and improving. They do that by asking Why.
- Benjamin Franklin

Observation and asking the question combined make up the first step of the scientific process and are the first steps that any leader should take when starting a new role. Leaders must scan the environment and then ask themselves “Why am I here”? Understanding the basic needs of the people, organizations, and communities being served defines a leader's purpose. The identification of purpose can then shape the goals that need to be established in the leadership journey.

When faced with challenges, leaders can ask, “Why is this happening?” Understanding the root cause of a problem, not only gives insight on potential solutions, but tools, processes or systems can be developed to prevent a problem from recurring.

The next two steps of the scientific method, research and forming a hypothesis, allow for the development of the action steps needed to fulfill leadership goals. One of the great gifts of modern-day technology is the interconnectivity of the world. As a leader, taking a deep dive into the views of those you serve through the assessment of current or past primary research (e.g. surveys). This data can be used to connect your goals to your purpose. In an organization, primary research can range from direct consumer surveys to internal surveys of employee satisfaction. The founder of a startup can use social media to survey potential clients and refine a minimal viable product, while the leader of a non-profit can survey donors to understand their intrinsic motivations to donate. Secondary research can be identified through various databases or even purchased from third-party vendors.

Data can then be used to form a hypothesis, or data-driven theory around ways to meet and exceed expectations. Using data to drive strategy formation is essential to ensuring that needs are always met. This can be particularly true when challenges arise. Have you ever heard the saying, “history repeats itself”? By researching the challenges faced by their organization or community and those similar to them leaders can learn from the successes and failures of predecessors. The ability to make a decision and execute sits at the core of how leaders perform. Researching and forming a hypothesis for both the best-case and worst-case scenarios can prevent shortsightedness in the decision-making process.

The scientific method is more than just scientific. It is a tool that can be used to solve complex problems outside of the science world. It is not enough to just make a decision, leaders must guide the execution of decisions made and determine if those decisions were appropriate, if a pivot needs to occur or if a new decision is required. Thus a leader must test, analyze and conclude. Throughout this process, the documentation and reporting of each step is critical to performance and growth. Internal and even external briefings containing the assessment of needs, hypotheses, solutions developed, growth strategies, performance and conclusion can provide a solid foundation on which a leader can build. Leadership is a dynamic process; thus, accurate reporting can serve as a guiding star.

About the Authors

Vanessa Saunders, Ph.D. is a health/medical writer, science communicator and researcher. Armed with a Ph.D. in Immunobiology, Vanessa believes that education is power and ultimately the key to disease prevention.

Rebecca A. Fein, DHSc, MBA, MS, has been working in technical and medical writing for more than 20 years. Rebecca’s training is multifaceted including political science/international relations, health care management, and health informatics, in addition to her certifications as a relationship and bereavement coach. Rebecca has a natural talent for “out of the box” strategies that solve complicated puzzles in life science. Rebecca enjoys the opportunity to collaborate with others and is passionate about empowering lay people to practice science.

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