Cultivating Leadership in an Academic Medical Research Base


This case study explores the transformation of an academic medical research institution that, despite its technical excellence and world-renowned status, lacked a focus on leadership development and the development of its people. Recognizing the need for change, the institution embarked on a long-term partnership with The Sparks Group. The study examines the journey of this partnership, starting with 1:1 coaching for two lead researchers and extending to the entire research faculty and staff.


The academic medical research institution had achieved remarkable success in scientific discoveries, breakthroughs, and patient care. However, it became apparent that the institution was not effectively nurturing the development and growth of its people. This deficiency resulted in missed opportunities for professional advancement, limited collaboration, and strained relationships among the research faculty and staff.

Initiating Change: 1:1 Coaching for Lead Researchers

To address these concerns, The Sparks Group was engaged for support. The partnership began with targeted 1:1 coaching engagements for two senior clinical researchers who were leading substantial research programs employing large teams and seeing patients. These engagements focused on growing their leadership both horizontally and vertically – adding both skills and capacity to operate at a higher level.

Extending Development to Research Faculty & Staff

Recognizing the need for a broader impact, The Sparks Group was asked to expand their services to include the rest of the research faculty and the staff. Workshops, programs, and group and individual coaching were designed and delivered to address the diverse needs and career stages of the faculty members. This included researchers with ongoing, significant programs, early career researchers, as well as the bench scientists, coordinators, and staff supporting the research programs.

Custom Solutions Before, During, and After the Pandemic

As with everyone, and particularly those in healthcare, the pandemic presented the organization and its leaders with major challenges. At each stage of the relationship, The Sparks Group carefully tailored everything to meet the unique challenges and aspirations of the participants. This included directly addressing the impacts of the pandemic on healthcare workers using the Personal Resilience Profile and resilience workshops.

“The Sparks Group is our secret weapon. They provide bespoke solutions based on our context, our needs, and our desired outcomes. Part of those custom solutions is their diverse bench of coaches and consultants – every practitioner we’ve worked with has been terrific. You can’t go wrong working with The Sparks Group.”
Lead Researchers,
Academic Medical Institution

Impact and Results

The long-term partnership between the academic medical research institution and The Sparks Group yielded significant positive outcomes. The lead researchers and individual researchers who received 1:1 coaching reported enhanced leadership capacity and skills. As a result, they became more effective in managing their research teams, fostering collaboration, and driving innovation.

The leadership development workshops and programs proved instrumental in creating a shared language and understanding of leadership across the groups. Researchers at critical points in their careers benefited from targeted interventions that equipped them with the necessary skills and mindsets to take on leadership roles. Furthermore, the involvement of bench scientists, coordinators, and supporting staff fostered a culture of inclusivity and collaboration, leading to increased engagement and productivity.

Sustained Growth and Continued Benefit

These groups and their leaders have now become an important voice for leadership development within their peer groups. Through its long-term partnership with The Sparks Group, the institution has developed a deep understanding of best practices in leadership development. They continue to invest in developing themselves with fit-for-purpose coaching and intentional leadership development activities.

The institution’s commitment to ongoing growth and improvement has fostered a supportive and empowering environment. The development of leadership capabilities at all levels has enabled the institution to adapt to changing research paradigms, attract top talent, and achieve sustainable success.


By recognizing the need to invest in leadership development and the development of its people, the academic medical research institution underwent a transformative journey. Through 1:1 coaching, leadership development workshops, and targeted programs, the institution successfully built a culture that values and nurtures leadership capabilities. The long-term partnership with The Sparks Group continues to provide invaluable support, positioning the institution as a leader in the field of academic medical research.

The institution’s commitment to cultivating leadership skills and fostering a supportive environment has not only benefited individual researchers and staff but has also resulted in improved collaboration, increased productivity, and sustained organizational success.

Moving forward, the institution remains dedicated to the ongoing growth and development of its people. They continue to leverage their partnership with The Sparks Group, expanding their offerings and adapting to the evolving needs of their faculty and staff. By embodying and sharing best practices in leadership development, the institution continues to be a beacon of excellence, attracting talent and establishing itself as a trusted resource in the academic medical research community