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Leading in Times of Change: Themes From a Panel of Influential Leaders

By Danielle Geissler, Ph.D.

Recently I had the pleasure of moderating the first-ever virtual Women in Leadership panel at the American Biomanufacturing Summit. The panel consisted of senior female leaders of Allakos Inc, Amgen, bluebird bio, Roche, and Sangamo Therapeutics, Inc. Each of them brought a different and rich set of experiences and knowledge to the virtual table.

BIO 2020 _ Women in LeadershipWe covered a lot of ground in the time we had. We talked about how leadership has changed in the past 20 years; what it takes to be an effective leader in today’s remote, COVID-19 world; how to overcome obstacles in your growth as a leader; how to support female leaders and drive diversity in your organization; and how to prepare your organization for forward-looking growth.Screen Shot 2020-07-23 at 10.14.02 AM

While the range of topics was fairly broad, some themes stood out to me. These themes provide insight into ways in which we as leaders can influence and build relationships and create stability and focus during these uncertain times. Here are the themes:

  • Communication: Leaders need to communicate constantly with their teams and the organization, often more than they usually would during “normal” times. Make sure your key messages are understood by everyone, instead of just assuming that is the case.
  • Listening: As much as communication is important, listening is critical. Your team members have lots of questions, given the many uncertainties and changes (both at work and at home), and therefore leaders need to ask thoughtful questions and check the pulse of the organization frequently to help problem-solve, remove barriers, and provide support.
  • Intentionality: Be very clear and purposeful in the way you lead, recognizing that you are a role model for everyone else in the organization. Practice what you preach and demonstrate core organizational (and personal) values in the way you interact with others.
  • Letting Go of Control: Leading partially or completely remote teams can be difficult for the micromanaging leader. How will you know that your people are doing what they are supposed to? In these times, it’s helpful to let go of your urge to control everyone’s schedule and instead allow your team to be creative about how to deliver the needed outcomes.
  • Not Taking Things Personally: This is a tough one. When leaders get into a situation where they feel they don’t have as much control as they usually do, and something happens that is less than optimal in impact, they tend to get quite stressed.  And some take what happens very personally, making it hard to move on and make clear decisions. Assume good intent with your teams and peers and focus on problem-solving and barrier removal.
  • Relationships: Working in a remote world requires trust. Trust comes from strong relationships. Strong relationships come from doing all the other things above consistently. Without good relationships, there can be no influence and impact. So, take the time to build personal relationships, and don’t let the physical distance impact your connections with people.
  • Agility: Being an effective leader today means accepting that organizational changes are ongoing, and that you will have to adapt to what’s coming at you quickly so you can lead others by example. Find ways to address the needs of the moment without getting lost in them.

I believe these themes apply to leaders in any role or position. Thank you to the panel members for sharing very personal and important lessons in impactful leadership.

Topics: Leadership, Team Building, Culture, Communicating with Teams, Working Remote, Leading Remote Teams, Managing Remotely