Learning to Lead in Mitochondrial Disease

The Academy of Medical Sciences FLIER programme is a unique leadership programme that develops leaders of the future who can create collaborations across academia, industry, the NHS and government to drive innovation and help solve the biggest health challenges we face.  Professor Gráinne Gorman,  Director of the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research (WCMR) and Professor of Neurology at Newcastle University, is a FLIER participant – find out about how she is learning to lead in mitochondrial disease and how the programme is benefitting her other leadership roles within the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and the Newcastle University Translational and Clinical Research Institute.

Q: What have you learnt on the programme and how are you putting it into practice?
A: I have rekindled my love of reading outside of medicine. Not all great leaders were born great – they have learned and honed their craft. I realise that great leaders often have a great coach or mentor. I have learned to keep my focus on what we are trying to achieve, to be true to my values and never forget ‘ruthless prioritisation’.

Q: What have you done differently as a result of FLIER?
A: In the first instance I would never have had the confidence to apply for the Directorship of the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University. Since starting FLIER, I have set up a coaching programme for PHD students, facilitated a team’s away day to begin devising our new vision and strategy, and worked to increase clarity around roles and expectations in achieving our shared goals.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?
A: Don’t be afraid of the silences; actively listen.

Q: What issue in health research do you want to take on and why?
A: Raising awareness that mitochondrial disease is not as rare as originally thought. My principal role is as a neurologist with an interest in mitochondrial medicine. This is often a devastating disease, and I am always humbled by the resilience and absolute generosity of the patients and their families in helping to support all we do on our quest for a cure.

Q: What are your hopes for the future in your work or the health sector?
A: On a personal level, I would support the creation of an institute for mitochondrial disease and dysfunction based in the North of England that would align all three pillars of excellence in mitochondrial care, education and research. With regard to the health sector, if the other FLIERS are anything to go by, the sector’s future is really bright.

Q: Is there anything else you want to tell me about in relation to FLIER?
A: When I arrived for the FLIER interview, I remember coming out of the tube station and my clothes were saturated as it was raining so heavy. I recall the panellist asking me where I saw myself in ten years’ time. I replied, ‘Do you want the usual answer or the one I saw this morning on the billboard of the underground?’ When she suggested the billboard, that’s when I knew this was going to be something exciting that I wanted to be part of. The message on the billboard? ‘If anyone asks you today where you see yourself in ten years’ time, reply, ‘Mate, I’m just trying to make it to Friday!’