Lessons in Leadership: The Seattle Project

By Cheri Stringer

When I read an article this weekend about leadership, it resonated so completely with my current growth and passion for leadership. It inspired me to write the essay below about the leaders that influenced me in my life:

I was exposed to amazing leadership in my tenure with the Seattle Project in my early 20’s. As the second person hired to form the “Seattle Project ” team, I was fortunate to watch and learn from some of the best leaders in science as they created and inspired a dynamic team.  The Seattle Project was a bold group of thought and science leaders in the field of cell cycle research, and within this group of over 20 people, I was fortunate to be the 2nd person hired for the team. I had amazing opportunities within this group to be a part of something truly inspirational from the beginning. Within The Seattle Project, four men influenced me the most in leadership: Stephen Friend, Leland Hartwell, Andy Murray, and Julian Simon. 

Stephen Friend

For those of you who don’t know who Stephen Friend, the visionary behind The Seattle Project team, Stephen discovered a human tumor suppressor gene (p53) directly linked to cancer formation. Prior to The Seattle Project, his work dramatically increased the understanding of genes that play a role in cancer development. P53 was one of the first genes directly associated with cancer in humans, with many correlative and connective genes in model organisms used in scientific research that had similar mechanisms. Stephen’s work was synergistic. It propelled forward a connective and integrative thought community around cancer research.

Leland Hartwell, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001

Stephen Friend himself was a phenomenon, a brilliant man, a cheerleader, a visionary, and the most powerful leader with whom I was fortune enough to work.  What I learned from that experience was life changing, but it would take years on my own path to bring it to light. Stephen was never afraid to go for what he wanted, to make the changes necessary for success, and to understand the potential of each person within his team. His leadership style was one of enthusiasm, vision, opportunity, positivity, and connection. He was courageous, compassionate, a good communicator, driven, and insightful.  Stephen took time to really connect with people one-on-one to understand what made them powerful. He saw the potential in people. Stephen was a courageous leader and never let fear get in the way of making the shifts necessary to succeed. He led other leaders to their potential. Working under him was a truly exceptional experience, and I always felt his compassion, energy, and vision. Stephen Friend inspired me to be my best with his ability to connect and synthesize.

 Leland Hartwell, a pillar in cell cycle research and Nobel Prize winner, was an inspiration to many in the field and his leadership style was very complimentary to Stephen’s enthusiastic and connective approach. He was quiet and humble in nature, but when he spoke everyone listened. This was because Leland’s work was impeccable, his knowledge and competency unmatched in the field. But he presented his knowledge with humility and a quiet confidence that engaged others. His listening skills and patience were superhuman. Leland taught me a lot about humility and its power to inspire.

Andy Murray

Andy Murray, a famous scientist from the University of San Francisco, was artistic, unpredictable, and innovative. Andy was a thrill to work with and motivated team members with his exceptional critical thinking skills and unexpected approach to problems. The creativity and playfulness of his leadership style made people smile, and when combined with Stephen and Leland, it was an elixir that spurred conversation and critical thinking. When I asked him about success, he said, “Always have high goals but low expectations. That way you are always striving for excellence, but you don’t lose momentum. Disappointment is the killer of innovation and progress.” I never forgot it.

Julian Simon

Julian Simon was an innovative leader and genius chemist, renowned for his work and team. He was bold, assertive, and passionate. He never hesitated to go in for the kill on something vital to make his point known. A true introvert, Julian utilized his time (when not being assertive) by protecting his energy with long walks, music, and space away from the lab. He got his hands dirty and worked alongside his team. Julian was constantly striving for excellence.  When I asked him about what brought success for him, his response was always, “I am afraid of failure, so I work exceptionally hard to always be ahead of the game.” This stuck with me; Everyone is afraid of failure- even the most successful people. How we manage our fears is the key.

These leaders shaped me in profound ways, but it would take years of personal work on my own, opportunity, and momentum for me to realize the impact these men had on my leadership style.  As I delve deeper into leadership and find my courage to lead with my own strength, these men are at the forefront of my mind. The article that inspired me to integrate this experience came from Forbes Magazine:

 

“Leadership is about enabling the full potential in others-

The 21st century leader must have the ability to make the most out of every situation. They are courageous and not afraid to challenge the status quo and push the boundaries to make things better. Because of these qualities and others, the best leaders know how to get the most out of people; they enable the full potential in others.”

 

These leaders, Stephen, Leland, Andy, and Julian, each brought a unique perspective to my development, and their wisdom pushed me to see things about my own leadership capabilities and aptitudes that I had never seen, fully appreciated, or understood before. You know that you’ve found the right leader for your career when they are eager to take an active interest in your growth and success. If your leader doesn’t show interest, this may be an early warning sign that they are the wrong leader for you.

So ask yourself, does your leader push you to see the full potential in yourself?

This is the type of leader I wish to be: One who empowers, pushes boundaries, and recognizes peoples’ full potential.

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