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What the Leaders of the Most Effective Teams Know


Findings from hundreds of interviews of exceptional pharma leaders around the world.

What do the leaders of the most effective pharma teams know and do differently than all the rest? These pharma leaders not only trust the research around the mechanism of action of our products, but they also trust the research around the mechanism of action of our people! They have seen the evidence in the research and in practice that purpose-driven teams outperform all the rest. They also know that being purpose driven isn’t innate. Afterall, 90% of people are not connected to their purpose at work. Over the days, months, mergers, and to do lists, most have lost sight of their purpose at work. So, what do these leaders of the most effective teams do differently? They cultivate purpose like they would a garden and accept that it needs continual tending.

Other leaders complain that their teams are burnt out. They have tried everything to help them create more value, increase engagement, and fuel their drive. But the restructuring hangover remains or the frustration about the lack of trust and engagement persists. But there’s hope. These challenges are gateways to extraordinary change. When pharma professionals ignite the power of their purpose, it’s TRANSFORMATIONAL they say.

In this article, we share what we’ve learned from interviewing hundreds of exceptional pharma leaders around the world. You will discover the missing leg of the three-legged stool of purpose, ten revealing questions leaders should ask themselves, and eight triggers to help you light your fire of purpose in pharma.

The three-legged stool of purpose

When you picture your ‘purpose’, I suspect that serving family, faith, or friends is the first thing to cross your mind. Makes sense right? Everything you do is for those you love. So, let’s call that your personal purpose. But what about the purpose of your work? Where does that fit in? And what about your company. It has its own purpose!

If you think of purpose as a three-legged stool, that personal-purpose leg is usually solid. The other solid leg is the organizational purpose. That’s our organization’s mission. That purpose is shouted from the website of every pharma company; to save and improve lives! We are privileged to work for organizations who ultimately have such profound impacts on people’s lives. The third leg is where the opportunity lies – your role purpose. This is the leg that is often missing and preventing people and teams from being their best selves. This is where you need to connect the dots between what you do and how it helps contribute to helping people help patients and then, and this is important, why that matters to you. What is it about your life story that consciously or unconsciously brought you here. When you find that golden thread of your life story that led you to pharma and discover the overlap between these three purposes, that’s the sweet spot!

Living in the sweet spot

How do people show up when they are living in that sweet spot? You see this in your best people, don’t you. They are more collaborative, more motivated, more resilient, and better communicators. They are the ones who earn the trust and engagement from HCP’s and internal collaborators. Why? They are seen as trusted partners who bring value!

What about you?

Why are you here? Are you living in the sweet spot? You likely know your personal purpose and your organizational purpose, but have you articulated your role purpose? As a leader, it’s important for you to be vulnerable first. Until you figure out what lights your internal fire of motivation, how do you expect to inspire others to do the same?

10 revealing questions

Speaking of others, what about your team? How connected to their purpose do they feel? Asking yourself the following ten questions can be revealing:

  1. If you looked at the “About” section of your employees’ LinkedIn profiles, would you sense their connection to their purpose?
  2. Do they have a three-sentence version of their purpose story that they share to gain trust and collaboration? We call this their ignition story. It ignites them as well as the person with whom they need to collaborate.
  3. Are they still struggling with gaining access or engagement or producing action with the people they need to collaborate?
  4. Does your organization look to “what” solutions (like salaries and perks) for retention instead of “why” solutions (like purpose and meaning)?
  5. How much effort do you allocate to onboarding and training to inspire connection to one’s purpose?
  6. When you interview do you know how to uncover one’s connection to purpose?
  7. Do you use language and take actions consistent with your realization of your connection to changing patients’ lives?
  8. Do you dedicate time and resources to fuel that flame of purpose in yourself and your team?
  9. Do your team members know each other’s stories? Do they assume best intent, forgive, trust, and collaborate smoothly?
  10. If an outsider were to talk to any individual in your organization, would they sense their appreciation and pride for the team and the difference they are making in the world?

8 purpose triggers

We’ve captured hundreds of Purpose Stories from pharma leaders and published one hundred of them in our non-profit book aptly titled A Dose of Inspiration: 100 Purpose Stories From Pharma Leaders (available as a free ebook here). Through these interviews, we discovered there are eight triggers or catalysts, each capable of sparking a profound sense of purpose. Of course, these triggers often overlap and intertwine, weaving complex yet compelling paths to one’s purpose. My hope is that the description below of the triggers may help you illuminate your golden thread of purpose.

  1. Personal Health Challenges: Individuals who have confronted personal health adversities or chronic conditions often feel compelled to contribute to the pharmaceutical industry, driven by a fervent desire to discover solutions and treatments, inspired by their own battles.
  2. Caregiving Experience: Serving as a caregiver to a loved one facing health challenges or witnessing such struggles can instill profound empathy, nurturing a passion to make meaningful contributions to healthcare, aiming to enhance the lives of patients and families.
  3. Commitment to Equity: Those confronted with life or healthcare disparities due to various societal factors may be galvanized to pursue a pharmaceutical career, advocating for a fairer, more equitable healthcare system and world.
  4. Spiritual or Religious Beliefs: Some individuals derive purpose in their pharmaceutical work by aligning it with their spiritual or religious convictions, driven by compassion and the desire to help others through a contribution to medical science and healthcare.
  5. Alignment with Personal Values and Ethics: Those guided by strong personal values centered on kindness, compassion, and the welfare of others often find profound meaning in a pharmaceutical career, recognizing how their work can assist humanity.
  6. Inspiration from Parents/Role Models: Childhood exposure to compassionate behaviors of parents or inspirational figures can ignite a philanthropic mindset, steering individuals towards a career in pharmaceuticals to positively influence lives.
  7. Scientific Curiosity: A fascination with science and a quest to expand the frontiers of knowledge can be a driving force, motivating individuals to contribute to scientific advancements and novel treatments within the pharmaceutical domain.
  8. Acknowledging Grace Received: Some are moved by a desire to reciprocate kindness, pay it forward, or honor someone due to grace received in their own lives. They perceive the pharmaceutical field as a platform to extend that grace, fostering the well-being of others.

It Starts with YOU!

Where to start? With you, of course! Once you discover the alignment between your personal purpose, role purpose, and organizational purpose, it is your duty as a leader to help those around you connect with theirs. The research and outcomes are clear - absolutely nothing has the power to transform your team’s outcomes like purpose does. Purpose may just be the key to unlocking the potential in your team. “For business leaders looking for the best way to survive and thrive in the face of today’s forces of disruption, the message is clear: begin your Purpose journey without delay.” (2020, EY Global). Imagine if your team was connected to the power of their purpose. How would that impact your results and the lives of the patients depending on your company?

Jill Donahue, MadEd, HBa is a popular speaker and program creator, author of three books, and helps pharma leaders build teamwork, engagement, and communication skills

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