The Need for Authoritarian Leaders?

When interviewing Dr. Blanche Capel of Duke University School of Medicine, it was intriguing to learn about the leader/follower dynamics in her line of work. Dr. Blanche Capel is a professor of cell biology as well as the Director of Admissions for the Developmental Biology Training Program and a part of the Duke University Appointments and Tenure Committee. Her journey to her current position was unique as she did not become invested in science until her children began school and she was able to take classes on genetics. She entered her Ph.D. program at 35 and was not on the market for a job until her 40s. Her unique rise to her position has provided her experiences with many leader/follower relationships that break stereotypes of what we know. For example, when she was completing a post-doctorate in London she found herself working under someone younger than her. I think this experience influenced her perspective on the roles of leaders and followers in her current workplace. She describes everyone in her lab as a colleague. There is no official hierarchy and everyone working in the lab from lab manager to doctoral student to lab assistant shares equal status. Although in practice the students might function to respect seniority regarding minute choices such as who gets the best desk, everyone’s skills and abilities are recognized and celebrated. I found all of this commentary quite interesting, yet familiar but what struck me was her opinion on her higher-ups, such as the chancellor and the dean. Dr. Capel mentioned that although her lab and chair in the department function at a collaborative level, the dean and chancellor function more authoritatively and that this indeed was not a bad thing. Their roles function more removed from everyone else but “nobody sees that as unfair because somebody has to make those decisions.” This is a point that I found very interesting because ultimately it makes sense. She gave the example of the current situation with COVID-19. When deciding whether to bring graduate students back for the fall, how the budget would be affected, proper protocol, etc. the dean and chancellor played a large part in organizing how all the details would work out. Purely for those jobs to function effectively, they had to be removed in some sense. This comment provided a lot of context and perspective on the roles of leader/follower relationships in academia for me.