Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source:  Information Processing

I was asked recently to write something about my leadership style / management philosophy. As a startup CEO I led a team of ~35, and now my office has something like 350 FTEs. Eventually, hands on leadership becomes impossible and one needs general principles that can be broadly conveyed.

I have a “no drama” leadership style. We try to be as rational and unbiased as possible in making decisions, always working in the long term interests of the institution and to advance human knowledge. I ask that everyone on my team try to understand all sides of a difficult issue to the point that they can, if asked, effectively argue other perspectives. This exercise helps overcome cognitive biases. My unit tries to be entirely “transparent” — we want other players at the university to understand the rationale and evidence behind our specific decisions. We want our resource allocations to be predictable, justifiable, and as free from petty politics as possible. Other units view members of my team as effective professionals who can be relied on to do the right thing.

One of the toughest aspects of my current job is the wide variety of things I have to look at — technologies and research projects across the spectrum from biomedical to engineering to fundamental physics to social science and the humanities. Total NSF + DOE funding at MSU ranks in the top 10 (very close to top 5) among US universities.

The most important principle I advance to my senior staff is epistemic caution together with pragmatism.

See also this interview (startups) and Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People :-)

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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.