Susan Everingham made a pleasant discovery when she took over as director of Rand Corp.'s Pittsburgh office in 2008: "There was nothing to fix."
Ms. Everingham oversees operations at Rand's Fifth Avenue office in Oakland, where 200 researchers, information technology specialists and administrative support staff work together on policy papers and other projects of local, regional and national significance.
She sees her job overseeing a large staff "as identifying obstacles to their success, whether it's personal development or institutional, and help them overcome the obstacles. I think a leader's role is to help them break down those obstacles so all people can be successful in their roles."
In an office full of self-starters, leadership for Ms. Everingham can sometimes mean cautioning colleagues not to take on too much work, a circumstance many bosses would envy.
There is a share of more mundane tasks, such as assigning office space ("I can't always put people where they want to be"), and there can be the occasional disagreement to sort out, she said, but in an environment where data and analysis reign, "I think there's always a solution if someone will step back and think about it."
After 25 years with Rand, much of it at the home office in Santa Monica, Calif., Ms. Everingham knows well the Rand culture. In terms of leadership, she describes it as "a very flat organization. I think the goal is to have everybody as a leader." In practice, that means a colleague who leads on one project will take a supportive role in another.
"I think this culture is an asset and I wouldn't want to lose it."
For her own part, the Fox Chapel resident said her own time is split three ways -- keeping the office running smoothly, conducting her own research and doing community outreach, such as serving on the boards of local nonprofit organizations.
"I will spend a fair amount of time making connections in the community, making sure the community is aware of the work that we've done, as well as business development, looking for potential clients and developing philanthropic support."
She also tries to set aside time to simply walk the halls so staff can approach her informally about whatever is on their mind. "I wish I could do that more."
For those who want to grow into a leadership position, Ms. Everingham's advice is, "Do your current job well, and let people know you are interested."
It was a love of math and science, not a craving to be in charge, that shaped her own career, she said. "I never thought I would be running an office, but I did think I wanted to be a good leader no matter what level I was at."
-- Steve Twedt: email@example.com or 412-263-1963