Taking Charge – Come Rain or Shine
Are people born to lead or can they be cultivated? Here, I share how we take a proactive approach to discovering and investing in future leaders.
Louis Fioccola |
Leadership qualities are highly prized in today’s competitive pharmaceutical market. After all, the right leader can guide a company from a second-tier position (or below) into the upper echelons of its sphere of business by motivating and inspiring colleagues and employees. But all too often “leadership” as a concept can be confused or conflated with a specific role, title or position within the hierarchy of an organization. In reality, leaders can emerge at all levels within a business – from the boardroom to the shop floor – regardless of job title and function. At my company, Cambrex, everyone is expected to lead wherever they are in the organization – and I believe this is a good direction for a company to take.
Decision makers who are based in the “ivory tower” of a company’s headquarters are often far removed from the actual processes and products. To be successful, you need those who are closest to the products and to the customers to feel empowered to make decisions that will improve the business. The traditional role of a leader is to set the pathway for moving forward and to bring everyone along with them, and it is still crucial to show leadership by example. To use an old cliché, a leader must “walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.” I believe that a leader must be able to inspire people with their experience, by their presence and other traditional qualities – but they must also be willing to get into the trenches with them. You need someone who says, “Look, this is going to be difficult, but we have to get in there and do this. We are up against some crazy odds, but here is how we can get there and I am going to roll up my sleeves and do this with you.”
Cambrex has always been relatively lean with few layers of management, and most of our senior team have come up through the operational side of the business and have the ability to interact genuinely with all levels of the organization. Our Chief Operating Officer, Shawn Cavanagh, is a chemical engineer who has worked his way up through the company into a leadership role. It is so important to be able to inspire someone on the shop floor, as well as someone on the executive team. Leaders must be able to connect with someone in the plant talking about processes as readily as discussing M&A strategy around the boardroom table, and must be able to paint a picture and get people to share a vision.
Another essential quality in a leader is discipline that translates into process and order and setting a rhythm for the organization. Typically, the culture of an organization is set from the top, and you need to have leaders who are setting an example through clear communication and clear expectations.
The true test of a good leader is not how they behave when things are going well, but how they show what they are made of when things aren’t going so well. It is fairly straightforward to manage a process or a project when everything is running smoothly and all the resources are in place; how could you not be successful in those circumstances? But if there is a major issue with a customer, which is potentially costly in terms of money and reputation, does that leader bluster and rage? Do they blame others? Or do they bring everyone together, gather the best ideas, find a solution and galvanize the team into moving forward? That is the kind of leadership that is the most valuable – leading by example, but still remaining open to suggestions.
My Top Leadership Tips
Communicate expectations clearly and test for understanding.
Expect things will go awry; that is when your ability to lead will be tested.
Take accountability; own the outcomes of your actions and those of your team.
Foster a culture where everyone understands that they are expected to lead from their role in the organization.
Tap into the knowledge of those who are closest to the product and the customer.
It is in response to the worst-case scenario where true leaders distinguish themselves from tactical managers. Organizations will always have their ups and downs, resulting from changes in the market or the regulatory landscape. There are always high points and valleys; the questions is: how do you get out of the valley and up to the next high point? Things will inevitably go awry at times, and if a leader cannot control their emotions when challenges arise, and fails to understand that their role is to create a sense of calm, then the company has a problem. In my 20-year career, I have seen people who are extremely well-educated with fantastic pedigrees who struggle when things don’t go their way – sometimes to the point where you wonder if you are working with a 50 year-old executive or a five year-old child! Prior to joining Cambrex, I witnessed leaders at other companies who were lauded for their leadership while the organization was doing well. But as soon as the landscape changed, they became “absentee leaders” because they did not want to be tainted by the lack of success. They enjoyed the celebrations and basked in the glory of the successes, but when things were not going so well, they were quick to blame others.
Cultivating talent and leadership
A large part of being a good leader comes down to temperament: how a person handles the challenges, and interacts with others during tough times. Humans will always make errors, but there is a difference between a person who berates a subordinate for it, and a true leader who looks for a way to fix it constructively.
If leadership is a matter of temperament, it begs the question whether people are born to be leaders, or whether they can be taught. I think that to a large extent it is a personality trait, but I also believe leadership skills can be learned over time and through experience. Over the course of peoples’ careers, most have seen examples of good and bad leadership, which may lead them to aspire to be like the former, or vow to never behave like the latter.
My role over the past five years has included building a very robust talent calibration process that measures an employee’s performance in their role, but that only tells part of the story. In particular, we are looking at how an individual responds to being exposed to different stresses and how they handle themselves in given situations. For example, one individual may be very adept at handling change: they can see change coming, appreciate the need for it, and handle it effectively. On the other hand, another individual with a similar background in the same role may not be able to cope with change because they rely heavily on a routine. When we add into the matrix real work examples and feedback from managers, colleagues and subordinates, we can identify those with high potential for leadership.
From there, we look to see how we can best invest in them, and what development they need to complement their skills to take them to the next level. These individuals are the future of the business. Every company will have key leadership roles and you want to ensure you have the best people to fill them! In my eyes, it is crucial to look at what you need talented employees to do to enable them to continue to grow and be successful.
In our industry, like many others, we need to be nimble and flexible. Cambrex is a contract manufacturing organization and our clients range from big pharma to small and emerging companies, so we have to be prepared to look at what is new and coming along, and how we can add value to it. We are constantly looking for people with agility in a range of different situations – with regard to change, performance, learning and interacting with people. We need to attract, retain, develop and motivate talent, and these four basic principles are applied to recruitment, through development, learning and training to succession planning.
True leaders are those who show up at the toughest times and also have the will to make dispassionate decisions on how to move forward, while encouraging colleagues to put their best ideas forward too. Investing in people who have that potential means you are investing in the future success of the company.
Louis Fioccola is Senior Director, Global HR Cambrex, East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA.
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