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Guiding Advice for Leaders Through COVID and Beyond

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-12-01-2020
Volume 40
Issue 12

A look at the leadership themes that have resonated most in 2020.

COVID-19 certainly put leadership to the test this year. Guiding a company through unprecedented times was something new and strange for even the most seasoned leaders. Many relied on tried-and-true tenets to guide them, while others forged new principles based on the lessons they learned under fire. Since March, the following leadership themes arose repeatedly during various interviews I conducted for this column, feature stories, profiles, podcasts, and roundtables. Though they were brought to the surface by the pandemic, these practices should be considered in any business climate.

Value employees

One of the most transparent examples of employee appreciation was provided by podcast guest Tim Walbert, CEO of Horizon Therapeutics. Walbert recounted how he gave his 1,200 employees a $1,500 bonus at the onset of COVID. The only thing he asked for in return was an e-mail to tell him how they were doing. Walbert was overwhelmed by the responses and notes of thanks he received.

Elaine Quilici, Senior Editor

The pharma leaders I interviewed for a feature on industry image in our June issue shared how they reached out to employees by offering additional paid leave, childcare assistance, and even online homeschooling resources to help during trying times. A number of CEOs participating in our August roundtable on the same topic likewise made a point to meet with employees, connect with them on a personal level, and address their concerns early on.

These active examples of compassion illustrate emotional intelligence, which has become a key leadership skill. According to a 2004 Harvard Business Review article, “emotional intelligence accounts for nearly 90% of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar.”

Be open-minded and adaptable

While many leaders appreciate the ability to pivot quickly, they have never been more challenged than during COVID. The overnight need to embrace technology was perhaps one of their greatest obstacles. In my July column, Affimed CEO Adi Hoess talked about how he had to hire a CMO and CSO virtually during the early days of the pandemic. Though it wasn’t ideal interviewing candidates via videoconference, he saw the silver lining of a process that was more efficient and convenient.

Jim and Cindy DiBiasi, co-founders of 3D Communications, also recognized the importance of being adaptable. In their podcast, they shared how they help prepare clients for high-stakes meetings that have transitioned online due to COVID, covering topics such as technology and etiquette.

The executives I interviewed for my October feature on patient support developed new e-offerings such as digital signatures and patient portals in order to reach doctors and patients as offices closed. Being open to new ideas is leading these firms through the storm.

Focus on your mission

According to Deloitte Insights, purpose-driven companies realize higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors. This is good news for pharma, whose purpose-led mission is intrinsic. Dana M. Krueger, managing director and global healthcare sector leader at Russell Reynolds, indicated in my June column that pharma leaders “will need purpose-led leadership as a core competency in their success profile going forward, otherwise they’re not going to be able to drive success.”

Though COVID hadn’t yet overtaken the US when I interviewed HBA Woman of the Year Sandra Horning for our April issue, she shared that her team operates under the guiding motto “patients are waiting.” This timeless advice has never been more apt as pharma leaders push to find a cure for COVID.

Be a role model

Finally, part of being a great leader is teaching by example, inspiring others, and knowing when to step back. In our May issue, Emerging Pharma Leader Anita Gupta of Heron Therapeutics, advised leaders to help identify people’s potential, then provide the “direction, purpose, and guardrails” to ensure their success.

In Horning’s profile, Paulo Fontoura, an executive at Genentech and Roche, lauded his former colleague for her ability to catalyze change in others. “I think she found that secret of great leadership, which is that sometimes when you step back, you create space for others to multiply your impact,” he said.

Elaine Quilici is Pharm Exec’s Senior Editor. She can be reached at equilici@mjhlifesciences.com.

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