The Environmental Factor sat down with J’Ingrid Mathis to discuss her leadership philosophy, management goals, and her vision for NIEHS moving forward.
Mathis will assume her new role as NIEHS executive officer and associate director for management on July 17. Prior to this new role, she served as chief of the Division of Intramural Research (DIR) Administrative and Research Services.
Mathis has acquired over 20 years of experience in administrative management leadership at the community, state, and federal levels (see sidebar). She holds a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University.
Environmental Factor: You have said that your leadership philosophy is anchored in being purposeful. Can you explain what that means?
J’Ingrid Mathis: I try to be very intentional, and I talk a lot about purposeful leadership because I believe you must lead with a purpose in mind. You must be thoughtful about who it is you are leading, how you are going to motivate and rally your team, and how you establish a vision that they can grab onto – and then how you might support your team in carrying out that vision.
I try to lead purposefully in three pillars: Innovation, Collaboration, and Inclusion. I define innovation as creatively thinking about different ways of doing things especially ideas that we may not have otherwise considered. We must collaborate, internally and externally, and to be strong collaborators we need to be inclusive. We need to make sure we are not just following a groupthink model. Inclusion means really opening those doors wide and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard.
EF: What are your top three management goals in this new leadership position?
JM: I recognize there is a lot that I bring to the position, but there is a lot that I do not know.
- A big part of my job is listening. I want to hear from my community, my Office of Management (OM) colleagues, senior leadership, other executive officers across NIH. I want to hear from our union stewards, employees, and all other NIEHS stakeholders.
- A big part of my job is action. I want to take that feedback and identify priority areas and work with my OM team to outline a plan and successfully implement those identified priorities.
- A big part of my job is collaboration and relationship building. To me, this is different from listening and is a part of taking action, and it is intentional and purposeful. There is no way with the scope of this position that I can do it alone. So, I need my partners, my collaborators, and really that means everyone — it is going to take all hands-on-deck. I will invest in building up relationships so our institute can be even more successful long-term.
I will add a fourth goal and that is to streamline processes. Let’s look at administrative requirements and our processes. Let’s stop doing those things that are not required, do more of those things that are working well for us, and let’s think about what we’re not doing that could help us operate better so that we can take NIEHS to the next stage of our success.
EF: What is your vision for the future of NIEHS?
JM: To create future leaders to support science.
I think it is important to acknowledge that just as we invest in our scientific community, we need to invest in our administrative community. I want to level that playing field through access to opportunities. I am a big fan of mentoring, and a huge fan of professional and career development. I want to help all employees chart a course for where they want their journey to take them. When we invest in our employees’ professional growth and development, we create more opportunities for scientific success.
EF: What kind of impact do you want to have on NIEHS?
JM: I would really like to help develop a workforce and administrative management plan for NIEHS that leaves the institute even better than I found it. To do that requires having strong and streamlined administrative processes, and a workforce that is truly engaged, and feels valued and respected.
I also want to make sure that I have done everything I can to support the science because ultimately that is why we are here. We can do that by bolstering our workforce, providing better resource management, and making sure we make life easier for folks to do and support the science.
I hope to impress upon folks that whether I sit in DIR or whether I sit in my new home in OM, I am really about all of us working together for the betterment of NIEHS. There is value in working together. If you dig in and work towards a common goal, there is nothing we cannot achieve.
(Jennifer Harker, Ph.D., is a technical writer-editor in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)