Francis Collins: One of the things I learned early on when I first came to NIH, asked to lead the Human Genome Project, was that you need to both have some kind of structure, so people aren’t just spinning off randomly in a direction that doesn’t add up to what you need to do, but other than that basic structure, you need to empower people.
You need to give them the opportunity to utilize their skills and talents, and you need to be comfortable surrounding yourself at every opportunity by people who are smarter than you are. And you also need to be comfortable surrounding yourself by people who are comfortable telling you, “Hey, you’re on the wrong tact here. You’re about to make a dumb mistake. I don’t agree with the decision you’ve just made.” The worst thing you could do in this situation is to have people around you who are afraid to confront you about a mistake you’re gonna make.
So I have lots of people around me who are not afraid at all, and it’s wonderful that way. So it’s a very open, honest interchange where people feel empowered to express their perspective, and when we get a team going, it lives on that basis, but everybody has to decide upfront that there’s a shared goal, and we will all fail unless all of us succeed, so we have to agree that we’re moving towards a common goal. And we can disagree, but ultimately we have to commit to that goal.