“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” ~ Helen Keller ~
The word “leadership” carries with it an implicit meaning of a person who is in charge. However, do we ever pause to consider what we mean when we use the word “leadership”?
Dr. Bruno Sobral, is a geneticist, agronomics engineer, founding director of the Colorado State University’s One Health Initiative, and graduate of the Authentic Leadership 16-week program. Over his career as a leader, he has found that the best leaders are those who can extend beyond their own discipline or peer groups to include others who may be different. He calls this “crossing boundaries.”
As a geneticist, Dr. Sobral has always been interested in finding out what leads people to enjoy and seek boundary crossing opportunities. He encourages us to reflect on how leadership actually means knowing how to cross boundaries and engage people who can complement and contribute from other disciplines, other sectors, and other professions.
Dr. Sobral suggests that, when we think about leadership, we should be aware and comfortable with the fact that not everyone can or wants to be a leader or a boundary crosser. Imagine a life where everyone was trying to lead and nobody was following. Nothing would ever get done.
At one time or another, Dr. Sobral believes that everyone struggles with leadership. Nobody is self-sufficient, although many of us, especially in the North American culture, may have been raised in the context where the expectation is that we should be self-sufficient. Anything less than that means we haven’t worked hard enough. Part of the untended consequence of this mindset, Dr. Sobral points out, is that we find it difficult to ask for any support or assistance, even though we understand in theory that good leadership means requiring people to work together toward a common goal.
One of the key ingredients to effective boundary crossing is the ability to engage people on a human level. Once we accept that we are not alone in our position of authority and that there are many other people who are willing to show up and share their expertise, our sense of isolation falls away and the weight of being the person in charge is off our shoulders.
Only by crossing boundaries and reaching out to others will we ever be able to come together as a society that is committed to ensuring growth and sustainability in health and welfare on a global scale.
Dr. Bruno Sobral is the first director of the Colorado State University One Health Initiative and a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology. The One Health Initiative focuses on finding solutions to climactic, ecological, food security, population and public-health challenges in today’s world by delivering innovative interventions for healthy systems.
Dr. Sobral was born in Brazil and educated both there and in the United States. He attained his under-graduate degree in Brazil in agronomic engineering and, in his late 20s, achieved a PhD in genetics in the US.
Early in his career, Dr. Sobral was founding director of the the Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech. He went on to become assistant vice president and head of Biosystem Informatics and Human Microbial Ecology at the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences in Lausanne, Switzerland. Prior to working with the CSU One Health Initiative, Dr. Sobral served as chief science officer for Alkol Biotech, a London-based feedstock research company that develops agricultural products for biofuels.
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