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Leadership in All the Right Places


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-02-01-2018
Volume 38
Issue 2

Drawing parallels from the world of football coaching in evaluating and grooming future C-suite pharma leaders-call it the quest to see "what right looks like?"

This time of year is hard on football coaches. There is a mindset that because you were a great college coach, or a defensive coordinator or offensive coordinator, you will make a great head coach in the NFL. But it doesn’t always work out. We know that in business, it’s called the Peter principle. Basically, people are hired or promoted based on their performance in their current role, not evaluated on their abilities for the intended role.

Lisa Henderson

This leads to the quote “Managers rise to the level of their incompetence.” Of course, you have to work your way up and be a coordinator on the way to head coach. But we’ve seen enough examples where someone is excellent exactly where they are, and the next step just isn’t for them. 

There are very inspirational coaches out there. I happen to be the type of person who is a sucker for movies like The Blind Side, Friday Night Lights, Remember the Titans, and Invincible. I saw Coach Don Shula keynote at a conference, and his stories brought tears to my eyes. My colleagues thought I was nuts. But it is a magical thing to watch someone lead a team who really loves their players and the game. And there is also no mistake that some great former coaches have brought in and mentored some of today’s great coaches. 

So the question becomes how do companies do that for their teams? How can they best evaluate who is going to be the right executive leader to take their company through the challenges facing the biopharma industry today?

As I evaluate the content in this month’s issue, and sit it next to upcoming issues on talent (in April) and leadership in June’s annual Pharma 50, a theme is emerging. That theme is the ability to change, transform and adapt. 

In last year’s Pharma 50, the focus was on three new areas necessary to navigate the current pharma terrain -transformative, ecosystem and enablement. The transformative leaders are the ones that help their organizations adapt and grow into ones that can meet the challenges of a new industry landscape-either in regard to digital technology, or big data or innovation. The ecosystem leaders shape the organization’s role in regards to its external stakeholders and builds long-lasting partnerships or effectively communicates the value of pharma products and services. And the last group, enabling leaders, can address the issues of administration and operations that may be under duress from M&As or other internal disruptions, and focus on people and culture and organizational efficiency and productivity to breathe new life into hardened processes. 

In the upcoming June Pharma 50 article, the authors from Russell Reynolds Associates will tackle the challenges around assessing leadership capability and offer interesting insight into the paradoxical traits that today’s leaders need. They present robust data on pragmatism as an increasingly important trait necessary for the C-suite pharma executive as market pressures build.

In April, we are speaking to a number of recruiters and consultants to uncover where pharma and biotech talent is coming from, what experience and skills are most needed, and how employees are mentored or coached to be promoted into new roles. 

Finally, in this issue, we are examining the industry’s bad reputation and what can be done to fix it.

One way, from the eyes of military leader Lt. General (Ret.) Rick Lynch, is to hire “adaptable leaders who possess a strong moral compass.” For the article, I had the privilege of attending an “Adapt or Die” meeting convened in Philadelphia in early December. I was able to listen in on the topic of mentoring and learn how strong mentorships-not the kind that HR mandates as part of its mainstreaming activities-but how mentorships formed on the basis of trust, availability and open advice have worked in pharma and the military. Bob Oliver, a member of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Adviser of Hyalo Technologies, and his mentor, J&J Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky, shared their mentoring stories, as well as Alicia Secor, President and CEO of Juniper Pharmaceuticals, who spoke very highly and fondly of her mentor, Henri A. Termeer, former Genzyme CEO, who passed away last year. In many cases, these mentorships look suspiciously like friendships, but with the added value that the mentor has actually walked the path that the mentee is on. 

The Adapt or Die meetings focus on a series of topics related to adaptable leadership, and were formed in part “so people can see what right looks like,” as Lynch says. 

In today’s world, there are plenty of examples of what wrong looks like. Which is why we look for stories of hope, people that inspire, or watch football games, where the battles aren’t complicated. We simply want to see more examples of what right looks like.


Lisa Henderson is Editor-in-Chief of Pharm Exec. She can be reached at lisa.henderson@ubm.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter: @trialsonline

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