“It’s not more intelligence that we need, it’s the ability of leaders to collaborate.”

mt-climbersThe most critical element currently needed in the pharmaceutical industry is collaborative leadership rooted in teams and departments that operate on the basis of shared goals and shared power. Effective collaborative strategies are critical to ongoing success in the changing pharmaceutical environment. In order to produce the necessary results, leaders need to foster a team environment of mutual respect and encourage reciprocity in the exchange of ideas and feedback.


There are challenges and stressors that are making this type of leadership more important. Everyone is now expected to do more with less, in less time and with more creativity. So making the extra effort to make sure others are in the information loop or are on the same page can be daunting. Taking the time to get the best thinking in certain issues seems painful. Giving direct feedback in situations that are critical to the success of the shared goal can be very difficult. If one function runs behind schedule and isn’t prepared for launch, the entire brand suffers, for you only get one shot at the launch. This happened recently in an alliance, which caused a rippling series of problems out to the portfolio level.

Another leadership challenge in the pharma industry has to do with personality types and their natural strengths and challenges. Scientists who do well in science and data many times don’t have natural skill sets in dealing with other personality types. It takes a hybrid to be skillful in handling both worlds of science and people. For many others, it’s simply not within their purview to bring in people when creating business strategies, solving problems and executing plans.

Traditional Leadership Collaborative Leadership
Power Believes power comes from position of authority or handed down Believes power is greatest in collective team
Objectives Aware of own goals handed down by management Facilitates the mutual creation of an energizing shared goal
Information I maintain ownership of information Openly share information and knowledge
Idea Generation Determines when, where and how suggestions and ideas from their team are solicited Regularly encourages suggestions and ideas from their team
Roles & Responsibilities Adhere to specific roles and responsibilities Allows roles to evolve or shift based on what’s needed to achieve shared goal
Resolving Issues Resolve but affix blame Seek to uncover root causes for learning purposes
Mentoring/Coaching Tell me where you want to go! What do you want to do?  Where?  Strengths? Weaknesses?  Here’s feedback!
Focus Own Team and Objectives What’s best for the company and shared goal

New Requirements

A collaborative leader must have the mindset, skills and abilities to shift the focus of the team from competing to consensus building, from continual consensus to decisions, from working alone to working together, from thinking about their individual strategies to the overall strategy, from focusing on short term results to long term impact.

A collaborative leader needs to increase their capabilities in assessing the environment, assisting teams in mutually creating a shared goal and developing people through mentoring and coaching. In order for the collaborative leader to create this environment, they must be committed to self-reflection, a continuous personal improvement process that leads to increased understanding of their own leadership and the ability to assess and engage others.

One of the unique requirements of leadership in the pharma industry is balancing the science/data with managing relationships and establishing an environment where reports feel cared for and valued. In this industry, it is becoming imperative for the collective intelligence to be nurtured in a safe collaborative space so the team can handle the dynamics and challenges being presented. This now includes the patient. So the use of the intellectual capital of the employees in an environment where they feel valued and are developed and mentored is crucial to handling the wide range of dynamics of the pharmaceutical landscape. Meeting these challenges cannot be done through a command and control environment. In the past executives felt that they were ready and have earned a promotion every two years. But the ability to lead collaboratively is very different from that which is gained through functional experience and this becomes more important at higher levels of management. Meaning that the ability to manage and lead people becomes more important than knowing the deep science of the molecules in the pipeline or the “how to” achieve market access.

Executive Awareness

So then what is being asked of the leadership in pharma today? Well it begins with leaders being aware of their own beliefs, attitudes/emotions and behaviors as it relates to their particular responsibilities and whom they are working with. This inner landscape of the leader is what determines their outer environment of their department or cross-functional team. Is it power over or is it collaborative? One question I ask senior executives when starting out with a team, with the intention of understanding how they lead, is ”Do you ask your direct reports for feedback on how you are doing your job? If so how often?” Their response of what they say and what they don’t say gives me a lot of information about how they lead. Is it more important to keep my ego in tact than getting information about how I might lead or perform better? Good question right?

With regard to accomplishing any goal, if there is a top down approach to decision-making the project will take longer, be less creative and take more time and energy. One executive said to me “I feel over worked and under utilized.” If the environment is collaborative meaning accomplishing the goal is more important than anyone’s personal agenda then feedback and open and passionate dialogue become common place and progress speeds up. The amount of feedback often is a determinant of speed.

The collaborative leader needs to make the shared goal the center of everything and everything needs to be in service to achieving the shared goal. Their needs to be unification around the shared goal eliminating personal agendas and if they do show up they need to be addressed.


Our programs address the beliefs, attitudes/emotions, behaviors and collaborative skill sets of executives that want to elevate their collaborative leadership. They are 3 – 6 month programs that shift the core orientation from which the executive works off.