Four Top Tips for Leadership
The importance of experience, learning, collaboration, and dealing with environments dominated by men.
Each stage of every career comes with a different set of challenges. Early in Angela Osborne’s career, she wanted to move forward fast but grew to understand that experience and learning were key to making a mark. Here, Osborne – founder and CEO of eXmoor Pharma shares her top four career tips.
1. Experience is a learning curve
The questions I hear most when I mentor young people are “how do I get promoted fast?” and “how do I become CEO?” I was once like them; I was looking for my ideas to be taken seriously when I didn’t yet have the experience to warrant that respect. Frustrating as it is, there’s just no direct substitute for experience.
After moving from a biotech SME to a mature engineering company, I found myself pushing to be taken seriously in an environment dominated by older men. I had more self-confidence by then and I knew my point of view was valuable, but it sometimes took more effort than it should have to convince others of my credibility. However, that experience made me a stronger person and gave me the skill set to convince, persuade, and cajole to sell my ideas.
Developing support networks is also beneficial. By mid-career, I was fortunate to have senior-level support. I have since spoken to young women who finally get a seat at the table, then worry as they look around and realize it’s all men. Imposter syndrome is a genuine challenge, but I like to remind these women that, generally speaking, any negative interactions they experience tend to be due to ignorance, not malice. It’s important to try to move on.
Thankfully, I remain motivated to try to succeed in whatever I do. More recently, my challenges relate to leadership approaches. At eXmoor, we have been a relatively small organization for 15 years, but the time came in 2017 to build bigger. As we have transitioned, I’ve needed to redefine my role because it’s impossible to be hands-on with everything! My goal now is to set a strategic direction. I leave it to my very capable team to perform. I’m lucky to have such great support.
2. Pick your battles
More experience has also taught me to choose my challenges more carefully. I’m competitive by nature, but I’m learning that sometimes you just need to let things go.
At my core, I am a positive person who generally expects things to turn out well. You could call that brave (or perhaps stupid!) but it’s led to attempting – and succeeding – at what is commonly viewed as impossible. Although I have certainly learned from experience, I don’t necessarily think I have handled each experience well. I remember trying to compete against colleagues with more experience but less competence (or so I thought!).
When I consider my initial, more confrontational approach, I think I should have found a way around people who I felt were holding me down, rather than going head-to-head. If I had handled things differently, then perhaps both of us would have benefited. I was in a hurry to get up the career ladder, but I realize now there are so many different routes – nobody has to follow a traditional, structured path. If I’d understood that, I might have put less pressure on myself. I remember being offered a ski season that I declined because I felt I needed to focus on my career and rush forward. There may have been missed opportunities.
3. Collaboration over competition
We played a game once during a management training program. The group devolved into two teams with both trying to outdo the other. Neither team won. And the group lost. Looking back, the obvious strategy was to maintain focus on the collaboration. We would have all succeeded if we had done that.
I reflect on this all the time in the cell and gene therapy manufacturing space. CDMOs have a nasty habit of disparaging each other, but the reality is that, for the sector to thrive, we need a good number of CDMOs to be successful or the entire industry won’t work. Collaboration is required, not competition – it’s better for patients if we all do well.
4. Come prepared to learn
Spend the early part of your career learning everything, getting as much experience as you can. It can sometimes be hard to recognize opportunities when they come along, but keep an eye out and be prepared. If you’re given a moment in the spotlight in front of senior people, you’re going to get noticed – for good or bad. I’ve seen young people thrive after approaching these interactions with enthusiasm and focus; I’ve seen others spend entire meetings scrolling through emails. It says a lot about you.
Know when to take opportunities. If you’re put to work under someone with more experience, learn what you can and then move on.
Some young people ask me what the best place to start at an organization would be. I say it doesn’t matter; everything has experience to give you. Once you’re inside an organization, you can more easily look for other areas and move around.
When hiring young people with the prerequisite technical background, we value energy, enthusiasm, and the ability to think critically above all else. A willingness to learn and high energy must come across in an interview. Everything else can be taught.
CEO, eXmoor Pharma