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What does good leadership look like? It’s a common interview question and something I only had thought about when preparing for such interviews. Lately however, this has become a very salient question, as I’ve gotten the chance to run my own teams and truly notice how relationships are the key to how we work and our overall productivity. Theres a ton on the internet and in books about how to manage teams, but nothing has instilled the lessons better than personal experience.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a former Bain consultant turned scientist entrepreneur. His biggest takeaway from his time at Bain was how simple in essence the problems at major Fortune 100 companies were. They boiled down to people problems; the inability for teams to properly interact and traverse the matrix of navigating egos, personal agendas, and self-pride.

When you get to a certain level, people are smart and driven enough to do the work, and probably at least 150% of the basic job description. If they really try, most of them are capable of over-performing and quickly reaching promotions and other milestones. At the top levels, failure is thus primarily due to poor management.

So how has my experience been running and being a part of teams? During my freshman year of college, I joined many teams, a slew of acronyms including SCNO, EWH, EWB, MedHacks, OMS, TCO, HMR. I worked on a design team, continued to do research under a PhD student, and worked frequently in teams to complete coursework. These experiences were all short lived (Out of those I’m only still involved in that research lab and with MedHacks). However, they were valuable in understanding what it means to work on a team, and what great leaders looked like from a member perspective.

Over the summer, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with a whole new set of projects. I’m helping to organize a Fall course, working at an early stage VC firm, leading my own design team, directing MedHacks, and doing a research project with a group at Stanford. Lots of teams, and a diverse set of roles that I’ve had on those teams. With these experiences, I’ve come up with what in my view, makes up a good leader:

Good Leadership

  • Good leaders check in, have clear expectations, and give you the opportunity to run further and take ownership of projects.
  • Good leaders understand that we are part of a team, and it is their responsibility to ensure that team members are happy, engaged, and productive. If team members fall behind, its the responsibility of the leader to take up the slack and ensure that the team moves forward. There is no use in blaming others.
  • Good leaders lead from the front and not from the back. The quality of a manager is the output of the team.

Bad leadership

  • Bad leaders are always busy, swamped with work and dont take the time to meet
  • Bad leaders let team communication run dry
  • Bad leaders don’t train their replacements
  • Bad leaders create drama and conflict for no reason
  • Bad leaders don’t recognize shortcomings and misunderstandings and don’t acknowledge the expertise of others