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7 Leadership Qualities All Life Science Executives Should Aspire To

Leadership is one of the most difficult jobs in the world, but it also has the potential to be one of the most rewarding.

As a leader, you have the incredible opportunity to change someone’s life every single day.

Taking on this daunting responsibility, leaders must possess a plethora of qualities and traits, yet one particular trait stands above them all: Possessing the passion to develop and maximize the potential of others.

Due to the complexities governing the highly regulated and governance-driven Life Sciences industry, leaders in the industry are particularly challenged with the fact, that they are all facing some huge technical/professional “blank spots” or “knowledge-gaps” due to the complex nature of the various functional disciplines within a Life Sciences company. As a consequence, Life Science executives must rely on strong leadership qualities and a high level of abstractivity to drive sound judgment and overall leadership.

Let’s take a look at the 7 leadership qualities that all Life Science executives should aspire to:

1. Strategic Vision

The ability to translate a strategic vision into goals and objectives while providing a platform for execution excellence is what defines the truly outstanding leader.

The ability to look beyond the immediate difficulties and focus on the far-reaching consequences and seeing things in a broader perspective while taking tendencies in the environment into account is not a given, as even senior executives also get caught up in the here-and-now problems and issues facing their company.

In the Life sciences industry where most employees are driven by a higher purpose, leaders must also connect the strategic vision to the higher purpose creating an inspirational and compelling narrative that can impact future behaviour.

2. Communication

The ability to communicate the strategic vision as well as the general ability to frame and communicate issues clearly so it makes sense to the target audience – and sometimes to the broader organization - is a key leadership quality.

Strong leaders master the ability to communicate effectively as they always make a habit of:

Knowing their audience well—spending the necessary time to research the audience,Building the message platform and key message drivers—making sure the message(s) is tailored and relevant to the audience,Managing the expectations of the audience during the communication process andMaking use of all possible aids that will enhance the message delivery.

3. Effective Followership

The road to leadership is paved with followership. As taking the lead is in the DNA of the leader, it makes followership a difficult notion to accept. However, by actively engaging oneself in helping managers, colleagues and employees succeed for the good of the company while continuing to exercise critical judgment, you can make yourself invaluable to the organization. The versatility of the leader depicted in the ability to not only lead but also follow and cooperate with others to achieve the organization’s goals, is a highly rated skill in a leader.

4. Delegation

In an industry as complex and regulated as the Life Sciences industry, it is key to ensure strong empowerment of teams – including effectively delegating tasks and responsibilities. In fact, it is a defining moment for a leader if he/she continues to struggle with the ability to delegate, as it will eventually become the unbreakable glass ceiling for proceeding to higher leadership levels.

Effective delegation is a leadership skill that's worth improving as it saves you time, develops your people, grooms a successor, and motivates. Adversely, in-effective or poor delegation will cause you frustration, demotivates your employees and takes away initiative from the employee. Delegation also demonstrates trust in your team and is closely correlated with the ability to retain employees.

5. Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management plays an integral part in a company’s effectiveness. A disgruntled stakeholder can use their influence to derail an entire project, and a well-managed stakeholder can be an invaluable asset, clearing organizational roadblocks and perhaps even advocating your project. In fact, strong leaders possess a multidimensional skill allowing them to see a project or problem in a larger context and through the eyes of the stakeholders. Stakeholders can include everything from employees, customers, investors, owners, communities, creditors, suppliers, unions and government and play key roles as sponsors, advocates, interested parties, etcetera.

One of our clients—a global medical device company—has identified stakeholder management as the most important and through-going personal competency crucial to organizational success. At large, it is also our experience, particularly in large, complex and politically driven organizations, that the level of stakeholder management skills of executives is somewhat predictive of his/her level of success in the organization—short-term and long-term.

6. Creating Engagement

Engagement is defined as “a desirable condition that has an organizational purpose, and connotes involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort and energy” (Schroeder-Saulnier, 2011). It encompasses an emotional connection between an employer and an employee—and draws a direct line to retention, productivity, customer satisfaction and financial performance.

All research points to the fact that leaders have critical roles in driving employee engagement. When leaders seem to value their employees, communicate to them, provide the necessary support to them to do well and lead by example, they create a strong foundation for employee engagement. Additionally, learning and development, is also a key driver of employee engagement. The creation of a positive work culture is another key driver of engagement. People believe it is important to be treated with respect and that they are empowered to make decisions and encouraged to bring new ideas to the table. Finally, research shows that employees who believe that their organization provides career opportunities are six times more likely also to feel engaged. The same goes for wellbeing in the workplace. In fact, the psychological and physical wellness of employees is a key driver of engagement. Research indicates that employees are likely to be more engaged, and thus, more productive if their workloads are appropriate, the work pressure is reasonable and some acceptable level of work-life balance is stroked. Furthermore, employees are eight times more likely to be engaged when health and wellbeing are actively promoted in a company.

7. Spotting and Retaining Talent

The ability to find and retain talent can be a true difference-maker for any organization. All leaders sooner or later acknowledge the fact that the payoff for every hire is not the same, and spending time and resources in spotting those star performers can in fact make a defining difference.

The Life Science industry is under transformation and the individuals that you would want to hire are likely to be the very same people that all your competitors want to hire. Essentially, the war for talent is limited to very few people who everyone wants to poach and it is our experience that retaining those individuals has become a major challenge for the Life Science industry at large.

Even though the consolidation of the Life Science industry has resulted in a reduction in the overall headcount, the pool of available talent, particularly those with the necessary skills and experience – fore instance in QA, RA, Market Access to name a few, is running extremely low. As a result Life Science companies are facing fierce competition to find staff for their projects. So, being in the Life Science industry, one of the biggest challenges for leaders is retention.

In our view, leaders should get back to basics if they want to hold on to their key staff. Simple elements as saying thank you and acknowledging hard work is essential. Other factors include:

  • Creating an employee-centred environment where employees feel valued is another important factor.

  • Empowering your team - allowing employees to take full ownership of their own responsibilities and making sure they use their talent and skills in the workplace.

  • Providing effective leadership & supervision - people leave managers and supervisors more often than they leave companies or jobs. Thus the supervisor has a critical role to play in retention, starting with setting a clear purpose, direction and expectations of the employee.

  • Providing opportunities for development - when asked what a boss could do more of, the general feedback from employees are: 1) “make use of my skills and abilities” and 2) ‘encourage my development’.

  • Making employees feel rewarded, recognized and appreciated.


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· De Waal, André A.: “The Characteristics of a High Performance Organizations”, Paper, Business Management & Strateg, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2012.

· Drucker, Peter: “Your Leadership Is Unique”, Christianity Today International/Leadership journal. Fall 1996, Vol. XVII, No 4.

· Gerson, Richard F.: “Achieving High Performance”, HRD Press, Inc., 1st edition, 2006.

· Morgan, Brian S. & Schiemann, William A.: “Measuring People and Performance: Closing the Gaps”, Quality Progress, January 1999.

· Maxwell, John C.: “Talent is never enough”, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.

· Maxwell, John, C.: “The Difference Maker”, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006.

· Millar, Michael: “Senior executives concerned about negative attitudes of employees”,

· Ledford Jr., Gerald E.: “Fostering Employee Involvement and Engagement through Compensation and Benefits” article from “The Talent Management Handbook”, McGraw-Hill, 2nd edition, 2011.

· Rothmann, S & Coetzer, E. P.: “The big five personality dimensions and job performance”, SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 2003.

· Schroeder-Saulnier, Deborah: “Employee Engagement and Talent Management”, article from “The Talent Management Handbook”, McGraw-Hill, 2nd edition, 2011.


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