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C-Suite Advisory

6 Leadership Qualities All Life Science Executives Should Master

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What makes a great leader? Contrary to popular belief, being a leader has little to do with your job title, the resources at your disposal, or your fearless, take-charge attitude. It has nothing to do with your background either. Leadership does not stem from power or authority, although these are both by-products of the role.

True leaders are social influences who unite others in the pursuit of a common goal and use their skills to maximize the efforts of their followers. Having great ideas will only take you so far if you cannot inspire people to act on them and successfully manage the process of bringing those ideas to fruition.

Here at Fraser Dove International, we know an exceptional leader when we see on. Our industry leading executive search process finds, qualifies and places leaders in life science organisations worldwide.

An executive doesn’t become a leader when they get a corner office. They do so when they have the vision and insights needed to take the organisation to the next level. They know when to seize an opportunity and can rally their team to work hard to achieve operational goals and objectives.

Here are the six leadership qualities all life science senior managers and executives should look to hone and master before they assume a leadership opportunity.

1. Strategic Vision

What sets the best leaders apart is their ability to translate their strategic vision into goals and objectives.

A strategic and visionary leader knows how to find a balance between being a dreamer and a doer. Before acting on an idea, they perform thorough due diligence – reviewing industry trends, analysing data and making predictions – to ensure facts guide their decision-making. If there are deficiencies in a plan, a leader is in a sufficiently informed position to recognise them and act early, before they can derail a vital goal.

Leaders with strategic vision are also inspirational. While they make decisions and execute strategy, they also arouse enthusiasm and foster loyalty by motivating and encouraging their employees. Those who lack strategic vision and the ability to motivate others to act on that vision cannot be leaders.

2. Communication

Excellent communication and great leadership go hand in hand.

To be an effective leader, one must be able to communicate clearly, express ideas in a way that the listener understands, and be able to share the same information with different audiences.

Great leaders also:

  • Listen well. When you pay close attention to what the others say, it fosters respect, trust, and more open communication then would be possible if the opposite were true. It also gives you a clear understanding of the other person’s knowledge and perspective and allows great leaders to uncover detail and facts others miss through not being attentive listeners.
  • Are open and honest. When you share successes and failures with your team, you give them the context needed to understand these events and how the organisation defines victory and defeat. It also gives your employees a sense of belonging to the organisation, which fosters loyalty and can boost employee wellbeing, engagement and retainment – two critical hiring metrics.
  • Share successes and failures. This gives your employees context and a sense of belonging to your organisation. Remember: success is a team effort, not yours alone. When you reward your employees for their effort and performance, it will motivate them to continue the good work. They will also readily support you when challenges arise and help you find a solution.
  • Provide constructive feedback. When addressing any deficiencies in an employee’s performance, great leaders use a tone and approach intended to build the person up instead of breaking them down. They use these opportunities to hone their communication skills, allowing them to provide better instructions if similar situations arise in the future.
  • Understand body language. Great leaders embody confidence by standing tall and keeping direct eye contact when speaking, instead of fidgeting and lowering their gaze. They know that their influence is only partially determined by what they say, and that people will be evaluating their credibility, confidence and empathy through their body language and actions too.
  • Lead by example. One thing you will never hear an effective leader say is “Do as I say, not what I do.” One of the strongest leadership qualities is the willingness to work in the trenches along with everyone else on the team. Doing so not only builds trust and rapport with your team but helps develops your skills and knowledge of how your organisation operates.

3. Delegation

You will never hear a successful leader utter, “I can do it better than anyone else.”

While a healthy ego is beneficial, great leaders understand and fully accept that they don’t have the qualifications, skills, or time to master every role in a project or department, especially in an industry as complicated and highly regulated as that of the life sciences. Instead, they choose to empower their teams through delegating projects and tasks to the employee(s) most able to deliver.

When you delegate, you demonstrate trust in your team. As a leader, you have the morale and ethical responsibility to help your employees grow and develop, not to mention the benefits of an engaged and loyal workforce to your performance, productivity and employee retention. Delegation is one way of providing your employees and future leaders with an opportunity to do so.

Many executives struggle with the concept of delegating. They understand how important it is, but they can’t bring themselves to relinquish control or worse, they micromanage.

When you are self-aware and comfortable with yourself, you’re willing to let your team do its part without your constant oversight. With the right training, your people can take on more complex tasks, and you create an atmosphere of trust that sets the tone for the workplace. The key is to this leadership enlightenment is to delegate appropriately. This means that you:

  • Take the bigger picture into account.
  • Assign tasks to those with the right skill sets.
  • Manage their commitments to ensure efficiency.

One final point on this matter. Employees work best on activities and tasks they enjoy doing. While most roles involve some form of menial tasks and activities, listen to your employees and find out which tasks and activities they enjoy doing, and which ones they dislike. That way, you can reduce the burden of menial tasks and activities by assigning them enjoyable ones accordingly.

4. Leading by example

There’s an old saying that goes along the lines of “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Genuine leaders embody this philosophy in the workplace by reflecting and embodying the behaviours they want to see in their employees. For example, they:

  • Champion honesty and integrity by being forthright and genuine in their dealing with team members and colleagues.
  • Getting stuck in with menial tasks and not expecting employees to do tasks they wouldn’t be prepared to do.
  • Live their organisational values and demonstrating them in every activity in which they partake.

This is further reinforced by a 2016 study by the Harvard Business Review which found high ethical and moral standards to be the top-rated leadership trait. This quality instils a safe and trusting company culture in which employees can learn and thrive, knowing the rules of engagement and that everyone is abiding by them. This, in turn, can increase engagement and retainment.

The opposite of leading by example are those “leaders” who subscribe to the “Do as I say, not as I do” philosophy. This hypocritical attitude is disastrous for employee morale. As a successful leader in the life sciences, you have a responsibility to your team to treat them fairly and with dignity. They look to you for guidance and strength, so always “walk the walk” in everything you do.

5. Seeking advice

One of the most important leadership qualities is the ability to admit that you don’t know everything. No matter how long you have been working in the life sciences industry or how well you feel you know your area of expertise, technology and research breakthroughs are propelling change so rapidly that you may find yourself in a position where you’re not sure how to respond to a situation.

When this happens, seek impartial advice. This should be a person whose opinion you trust and who is not invested professionally or emotionally in the outcome. They have been in a similar situation before or are subject matter experts and can present you with information and/or practical options which you can action. If no one you know fits this brief, consider a financial adviser.

Given the speed of change, it is essential to invest in training, both for yourself and your team. By encouraging life-long learning within your team/department/function/organisation, you prevent your employees from stagnating professionally. Moreover, by challenging yourself to learn too, you are showing that you’re equally committed to professional excellence.

If you encounter a situation and aren’t sure how to proceed, ask the team for their thoughts and opinions. They will feel heard and have the impression that their contributions matter.

However, no matter whom you approach, always seek the truth. Leaders are required to make critical decisions that affect the entire organisation, so you need an accurate basis for doing so.

6. Spotting and retaining talent

Leaders come in all shapes and forms but never forget that your life science organisation is only as successful as its greatest asset – your employees..

Acclaimed leaders who grew successful organisation did so by investing in talented workers and earning their loyalty. The surrounded themselves with courageous, loyal people who lived the organisational values and were driven to push the goal posts at every opportunity, ensuring the organisation achieve its goals and objectives while furthering life science.

Once you have spotted and recruited a good employee, guide them in their new role and give them the support and resources they need to meet – and exceed – your expectations. By ensuring that training and coaching are always available, you ensure your team keeps abreast of changes in the evolving life science field while boosting employee engagement and increasing retention.

Great leaders understand the true cost of hiring and onboarding new employees, so ensuring their people are content and engaged in the work they do is a top priority. And they understand that if they make a bad hire and terminate a new management-level employee within 2.5 years of hiring, they stand to lose 10x the cost of the employees’ salary, excluding hiring costs!

Finally, leaders never neglect their leadership pipeline! It’s important to remember that leaders can be found at all levels and backgrounds within your life science organisation, so it’s important to identify them and develop their leadership skills early on. While formal leadership training is of benefit, the transfer of knowledge afforded by mentoring programs allows you to build a robust leadership pipeline from which to promote internal candidates in the future, slashing your hiring costs and ensuring minimum time and effort is expended getting the employee up to speed.

As a senior manager or executive in the life sciences industry, you have a wide range of responsibilities that are all essential to ensuring your life science organisation continues to grow and prosper. When you master the six leadership qualities in this article, you will inspire your employees, achieve results, and make it possible for your company -and career- to blossom.


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Thomas Dove
Thomas Dove, Chief Commercial Officer at Fraser Dove International, helps life science professionals leverage their experience and accomplishments; matching them with leading life science organisations looking for visionary leaders to transform their value chain operations. Thomas is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.
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