Reflections from a Headhunter in Life Sciences who is a realistic optimist – we need a new social contract!
In my self-isolating work from home arrangement since March, I am humbled that I have work to do and people to engage with. It’s also given me more time and headspace for reflection.
“We don’t need experts”. Do you remember Michael Gove (UK Member of Parliament) making this statement back in a FT interview back in 2016? I can’t think that there’s a single sensible person who would agree with this. Covid-19 has more than proven the need for scientific experts.
One outcome of COVID-19’s visit to humanity will be, I hope, that we will all rely more on experts and use our politicians as translators, facilitators and catalysts, enabling them to make decisions based on evidence, ethics and data – not as “knee jerking crystal ball gazers”.
Change is coming
I’ve spoken to almost 100 Life Sciences industry leaders in the last two months, at all levels, geographies and across many functions. The sense of opportunity is palpable – for the first time we’re embracing a common enemy and challenge rather than fighting along national or company lines, but the truth is, we are already squandering many chances to make the new normal a better normal. People tell me that future changes will be in the areas of;
- Organisation – digitalisation, procurement diversity, sustainability and technological adaptability
- Leadership – communication, virtual leadership, stress testing, hardiness and resilience
- Board – quality of investors, NED bandwidth and remuneration
We need to go deeper
These areas are all important (and in many organisations already in focus) and, by changing so much, we can all benefit. I can’t help thinking though that, from an Executive Talent Leadership perspective, we need to go even deeper. We need to look at behavioural and occupational psychology drivers and get to know the people better – not just ad hoc psychometrics and skill sets.
The examples are right in front of us
I’ve never been more certain that the assistance we can give to executive leaders now is crucial for how behaviours will have to change, and stay changed, once the world is back to a new normality. Particularly, I’m struck by the way that so many Life Sciences leaders have been agile, decisive and inspiring, and it’s led me to reflect on how important “the power of human leadership” is during a time of crisis like this and what type of leadership we will need post COVID-19.
I have never seen as many examples of the positive impact that those who ‘lead as humans first’ can have on their own teams, their colleagues, clients and suppliers. Small talk is out, meaningful connection is in. We are checking in with each other – and I mean ‘really’ checking in. The glib ‘how’s things?’ has been replaced with ‘tell me how it is for you and your family right now?’ We are bringing each other into our lives through Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime etc. I have seen gardens, living rooms, studies, kitchens and sheds. I have seen, sometimes for the first time, the person behind the job – CEOs in T-shirts and Board individuals who relax with family members.
There have been serious moments, laughter, chat and tears. But most of all we’ve talked as people first. There are many lessons to take forward, from this new chapter and way of working, on the power of human connectivity and we need leaders, to reach out and do that.
“Why Do So Many Managers Forget They’re Human Beings?”
A 2018 Harvard Business Review article with this title describes the power of leadership as ‘our ability to form personal and meaningful bonds with the people whom we lead.’ This is truer now than ever before. It is not just millennials who want meaning, happiness, and connectivity. So, as we grapple with the impact of COVID-19 and practice social distancing, the time for real, meaningful connectivity is now.
Ask people for their views on your leadership
For new leaders, this is the toughest challenge they have ever met. Those of us who led through the new age and IT crisis, 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008, or significant recessions, have some practice, however each chapter has new lessons for leaders. Especially in these circumstances, it is more important than ever to ask for feedback. Ask people you know well, and even those you know less well, how you are doing as a leader. Let those who lead you know how they are doing (there is no guidebook for leading through COVID-19). Look in your own mirror, how are you doing with providing the balance between vulnerability and direction, your authenticity and your inclusiveness, so that everyone (regardless of their role, background and difference to you) feels like they belong.
Questions I often ask myself are; What should I do less of? What should I stop doing? What should I do more of?
I’d love to know your thoughts, feel free to contact me by phone on +44 (0) 7860 907 129 or on email at Thomas.Schleimer@theRSAgroup.com
Thomas Schleimer, Managing Partner