Developing effective healthcare leaders

Inflexion recently brought its healthcare portfolio and Advisory Board together to discuss the importance of leadership. Freddy West, Inflexion’s Talent Director, posed questions to two experts in the field, Sarah Matthew, a leadership coach with experience in four pharma companies before moving to consulting and building and selling two, and Jane Griffiths, NXD at Johnson Matthey and BAE Systems, Chair of Redx Pharma, and former leadership roles at Janssen and Global Head of Actelion.

Does research point to key attributes that the best leaders have in common?

Sarah: There’s a wealth of research and what’s exciting now is we’re seeing convergence of a lot of academic research and neuroscience, which allows us to understand human behaviour better than ever before. Common findings are that the number one determinants of leadership success are self-awareness and resilience. These two qualities are interconnected and vital for effective leadership. Leadership begins with introspection and the ability to see ourselves from others' perspectives while recognising the fragility of our egos.

Jane: Resilience is indeed crucial. There is so much change and pressure on businesses so you need to be able to constantly put things in perspective. Self-awareness is also essential; the most challenging people to coach are those lacking self-awareness and believe they excel at everything. Sometimes, an external perspective, as I experienced when asked to move to the US, is necessary to inspire a leader to undertake a path they might not initially want to pursue.

When we talk about self-awareness and resilience in the context of teams, it can be challenging to know how to foster these qualities. How can we achieve this?

Sarah: Leadership starts with understanding how to lead, and a critical question to ask is, "How do I need to behave so that people want to come with me, even when they may not initially want to?" Children intuitively recognise who the leaders are, but over time, we often lose sight of this. Honesty with oneself is crucial. Additionally, as we consider the next generation, such as Gen Z, who have unique approaches to work, we must adapt our leadership styles to meet their needs.

When mentoring new leaders, what tips can you offer them?

Jane: One essential aspect is encouraging new leaders to undergo a 360-degree feedback assessment. It's critical to understand how others perceive you – and if you don’t know the mentee well, you need to get this perspective. If people aren't following your lead, you need to know why. Additionally, fostering humility is vital. Recognising that you're not exceptional at everything is key to personal growth and leadership. A big part of being a leader is knowing where you need external resource and you need self-awareness to understand that the leader doesn’t always have all the skills needed.

How can coaches help individuals develop quickly?

Sarah: Orientation is key to helping individuals develop quickly. We often find gaps in leadership when there's a lack of clarity about where an organisation is headed, why it’s going there and the route is it intending to take. In a purpose-driven world, understanding the "why" behind decisions is crucial, and it goes beyond mere financial goals. Recent data shows that purpose has become more important than salary for many professionals, even during a cost-of-living crisis. When people understand the "why," they can decide whether they believe in the journey and the decision-makers.

Jane: Effective vision and purpose can unite a team. For example, BAE Systems has a clear and simple They protect those who protect us, and they unite around a common purpose. It’s very effective and simple.

A NED has a role to play in terms of determining if it’s a credible position; a board can help to challenge and to develop the whole process of deciding on a vision and purpose.

How do you develop leaders into a cohesive group when working with them?

Sarah: We start by acknowledging that so much business practice focuses on the problem but that it’s usually far more constructive (and effective) to focus your energy and attention on where you actually want to go, rather than on what you want to avoid.

This happens because it’s where our brains naturally want to go, but when we delve into the human operating system and we begin to understand how we process information and emotions, we see that the vast majority of people today live in a misunderstanding. We tend to believe that the satisfaction we feel at work and in life generally, is mainly driven by the circumstances. That plays a major part, of course, but neuroscience shows us that it’s really down to how our brain automatically interprets those circumstances.

Most people are unaware of the extent to which all of their reactions and behaviours are shaped by unconscious processes. By age 30, it has been estimated that around 80% of the information we perceive in a given moment has been added in from our previous experiences. Once we understand this, we can become far more empowered and we often find that more accountability is a natural consequence. We realise that we don’t have to be hostage to how our brain perceives the world, or to our programmed reactions and this is a massive help in fostering greater empathy and collaboration within teams.

Developing great leadership skills also requires recognising and exploring areas of discomfort and disagreement and a more accurate understanding of how humans really tick is vital for this. We stop trying to convince others that we're right and they're wrong, and instead set out to fully understand the differing perceived realities. It’s only by wanting to discover what they are and how they have come to be that we can see the bigger picture, make the best decisions and take everyone along with us.

How did you identify your successor and what was the process like?

Jane: At J&J, there's a rigorous process for identifying successors. You can't leave your position until you've identified someone to take over or have developed such a person. The success of a leader is measured, in part, by how many individuals in their team have been promoted. It's about nurturing top talent. A successor should be someone who will clearly be a great custodian of what you’ve built and they’ll bring new views to it. This individual needs to fit well within the organisation, possess humility and teamwork skills, and garner support across the entire organisation. Finding the right person may take years, as it's essential for everyone in the company to have confidence in the successor.

“Developing ourselves is often the best way to bring out the best in others so they can lead teams effectively,” Freddy enthuses. “As every person is different, it means understanding how you’re perceived and adapting.”

Teams that are well structured with best-in-class talent and have the necessary skills required to execute on growth plans are teams that will drive long-term sustainable growth. Inflexion’s Talent team supports portfolio companies on optimising their organisational design by really understanding – and then sourcing – the skillsets they require to drive growth plans. We do this iteratively throughout the investment cycle, from pre-deal to exit, making sure our management teams always have the right talent and experience in place to help carry out evolving growth plans.