During my career, I think I have seen it all. Great leaders and pretty awful ones but still, for some reasons, being allowed to lead parts or whole organizations. It is easy and intuitive to understand the dependency between the quality of companies’ leadership and productivity of those organizations. Happy and engaged employees produce more and are more creative, and innovative. Yet, not all the companies seem to get that simple connection.
Q: Why some of the leaders are perceived so negatively by employees, while some have the ability to influence others, leading organizations smoothly and efficiently? What is the bottom line?
A: GREAT leaders build long-lasting, positive relationships with people at the different level of the organization.
Yes, this is a simplification of a very complex topic, that is already very well described, for example, in J. Maxwell “5 Levels of Leadership” book. My 17+ years journey in corporate pharma world does not seem to bring any new findings on the leadership quality. As expected, the majority of the leaders operate at Level 1. They own the titles/positions, and they automatically assume they have all the power to make things happen, that everyone has to follow and be obedient. Many of them show an autocratic leadership style, even if initially they seem to be collaborative and listen, very often it is illusive, followed by a backstabbing and dirty politics that leave the affected employees disoriented and frustrated by the outcome.
I worked for one particular organization where that style was dominant within senior leadership. The result, very high employee turn-over, lack of staff engagement and pretty negative corporate culture overall… One would think that if the people leadership is so poor, it could be that: 1) ‘difficult’ leaders own considerable technical expertise, thus the organization still gets some benefit in keeping them around or/and 2) they could be trained to get better in leading others… Well, to answer point #1): the leaders in that category are not always great experts, actually sometimes they are very ineffective and damaging. Unexplainably, they are remaining in the organizations. Some of them are indeed excellent technical experts. However, since they are toxic, they should be still isolated and serve exclusively as technical experts, not people leaders. That can at least reduce the damage. To answer question #2): one can make an attempt but can not really change a mature person who reached VP level or up. Training will not improve much.
This is merely my personal point of view. But I have been observing pharma and biotech companies for years, also talk to my professional network and friends. People tend to agree with above conclusions.
What would be the solution to the problem? Only qualified and skilled leaders with a relevant track record should fill the positions in the fist place. There is too much at stake (business, employees) to risk but many public companies continue to hire and keep damaging leaders onboard. There are two proverbs that I really like, and they summarize the best practices for all organizations when it comes to quality of their leaders: “Best in class leaders hire best in class employees” and “Hire slowly and fire fast.” This is self-explanatory.
The rule of thumb is that senior leaders at Level 1 never or rarely advance. It is too late for them as they missed their self-growth opportunity earlier in their career and they are “locked-in” in their old ways of doing things. What is even worse, they frequently try to dismiss junior leaders who are more skilled and are able to be efficient thanks to the relationships they develop and maintain within an organization.
Many junior Level 3 leaders have been slowly pushed away as they are the threat to the weaker senior leaders. I have seen this too many times, similarly to J. Maxwell experiences. The recommended action for the HR and executive leaders of pharma organizations would be to invest heavily in training and development of next generation of leaders and bring onboard only qualified and influential executives from the outside. That could improve the organizational culture and increase the productivity over time.
Fortunately, I have also seen excellent examples of Level 3-4 leaders that I worked for or with in my career. Real leaders that build relationships with people are reaching the organizational goals, promote others and help them to grow professionally. I was lucky enough that one of them was my line manager for 4 years. She made a great impact on how I see leadership and on who I am professionally today.
I also had led teams of Level 3 and 4 leaders in the past. During that time, I have witnessed how people grow professionally, advance their careers and develop another generation of leaders. This has been the most rewarding career time to me. Having the ability to lead a fantastic squad of individual that cared not only about themselves but also about others, on a professional and personal level. It is helpful if executive level leaders serve as an example and show to the employees the right leadership pathways, and keep them on those tracks.
It is not a secret, that my all time favorite Level 5 leader is Sir Richard Branson. I still have to see an actual Level 5 leader in corporate, large pharma or smaller biopharmaceutical company, as influential to me, as Sir Branson. Time will tell if I land in such organization.