Does your boss show angelic or demonic qualities whilst at work? Naysan Firoozmand discusses what attributes distinguish a good and bad boss in the pharmaceutical industry and the formula needed for success.
It comes as no real surprise that the pharmaceutical industry expects a high level of industry-specific skills from its key leaders. The employees of pharmaceutical businesses, like those of any organisation whose operational foundations are firmly rooted in the acquisition, management and development of technical knowledge, will tend to look for evidence of expertise as an attribute of current and future managers. Where intellectual property is king, it’s not surprising that the rest of ‘the royal court’ might display a preference for intellect over sentiment.
But this goes beyond simply operating in a culture where knowledge is mission critical. Embedded in the fundamental processes of the industry – research, development, testing and monitoring – there is also a culture in which it is expected that decisions are informed by evidence, as well as instinct, and with a real preference for the former. Pharmaceutical line and key account managers will be expected not just to have an impressive track record, but for their career trajectory to be documented and provable: their personal case for leadership is more likely to be clearly argued rather than debatable.
Individuals often operate under an expectation that they will develop substantial professional standing through publication and presentations, with their output being reviewed and scrutinised by the peers. This is arguably a third instance of ‘evidence’ taking precedence: the individual’s standing is ‘proven’ by its being documented. The phrase “well, they’re so good at what they do, leadership seemed like the logical next step” is often heard. However, the implications of following this route to success are not always recognised. Only leaders that have the interests of the people they manage in mind have the ability to truly succeed and excel in the future.
Vision and strategy
The qualities that are readily admired in rising talents can often be out-of-step with those that the emerging leader’s followers are looking for. Indeed in its 2010 White Paper, The Leadership Challenge in the Pharmaceutical Sector, the Center for Creative Leadership identified ”having too narrow a functional orientation” as the greatest potential derailment factor for budding pharma executives.
While their own expertise and knowledge provide a shortcut to establishing trust within their organisations, technical knowledge is not all that is required of them. A successful leader needs to provide more: the ability to provide vision and strategy, the emotional intelligence to relate to others interpersonally and show a willingness to engage with them, and a desire to inspire achievement and attainment.
In the context of the pharmaceutical sector, they must also typically be able to communicate effectively and credibly with an audience that comprises highly intelligent and critical individuals working in various scientific, research and academic or supporting roles. Moreover, to do so requires them to effectively deploy emotional intelligence in an arena where intelligence and factual reasoning will often hold greater appeal than self- or social-awareness, never mind self- or relationship-management.
In an environment where recognition for individual performance is so frequently influenced by the evidencing of expertise, and in an industry that attracts many of its key talents as they are seeking opportunities for personal development within a specialism, ‘progress’ is too easy to relate to building an impressive personal portfolio. Pharma bosses that are truly ‘great’ are those who recognise that to achieve greatness they must enable others to surpass them, and do so by creating trust and putting their self-orientation and their own ego much further down their priority list. As Dame Anita Roddick once pointed out, “leaders should encourage the next generation not just to follow, but to overtake.”
Part of the key to success for excellent pharma managers is in two possible responses to this situation. Firstly, to ensure that the organisation’s senior leadership provides individuals with opportunities to develop their personal portfolios – as these can be key personal motivators. The second response is in identifying and voicing a common motivator and visions – a factor that binds individuals to the organisation and its vision rather than to the pursuit of individual goals. Within pharma, that common motivation is often the wish to do something of value to humanity – to combat disease, help people to survive and live positively with otherwise threatening or disabling medical conditions. It’s pharmaceuticals existence not as a pure but an applied science that provides this opportunity to establish common ground and shared vision.
For the organisation, the ability of its managers to build effective collaborative teams is a win-win situation: not only does this approach help to counter the potential for functional narrowness, but a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving strengthens the R&D function that is so critical to an industry so profoundly rooted in problem-solving, applied research and intellectual property.
Above all however, the pharmaceutical expert-to-leader must recognise and embrace a new way of serving: where their role as expert affords them respect and authority as a source of knowledge. But in their role as leader they must earn respect and authority as a source of judgement and direction and a skilled guider of the application of the knowledge of others.
Naysan Firoozmand is a Managing Consultant at ASK Europe plc.