Why ‘soft’ skills matter in the new era of leadership

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How lead and organizations operate has changed leaders in the past few years. From the onset of COVID-19, executives have had to embrace new skills to navigate an earlier business landscape. Some of these skills, traditionally characterized as being “soft” or more closely identified with female leaders, have emerged as integral to team development, achieving business milestones and operational success.

Every year, the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) meets to honor standout leaders across the life sciences. In addition to naming a Woman of the Year, the nonprofit bestows a broad array of female healthcare leaders with two other honors: The HBA Luminary Award and the HBA Rising Star Award.

This year, 84 senior-level women were identified as Luminaries for serving as role models and mentors in their respective companies and helping to advance the careers of other women.

For this first installment of a two-part series, we caught up with some of these transformational leaders to discuss what they believe will be critical to success for healthcare management in the coming years.

Here’s how they define this new era of leadership.

Neelima Rao

Leading with authenticity

“Social intelligence — the capacity to know oneself and to know others — will be the most critical skill in the new era of leadership. As leaders are navigating uncharted territories, the ability to foster genuine human connection will be key to success. Leading with authenticity is built through a leader’s everyday actions, as everything starts with trust.”
Neelima Rao, vice president, Human Resources, Global Oncology R&D and US human resources head, AstraZeneca

Jula Inrig

Flexing to the needs of the individual

“The COVID-19 pandemic provided many of us with an unexpected leadership lesson — how to successfully steer organizations and teams through times of uncertainty. For me, it emphasized that strong leadership first and foremost requires flexibility along with open communication and a willingness to do things differently. My leadership style has and continues to be situational — to flex to the needs of the individual. If you have a team member who thrives on working independently, nurture that. If you have people who need step-by-step guidance, then lean in, or find them the right support system to guide them.”
Jula Inrig, chief medical officer, Travere Therapeutics

Sophia Sharp-Donaldson

Finding the right face-to-face balance

“As we move to a new normal after two years of remote working, a new era of leadership will certainly emerge as a result. A critical skill for leaders will be our ability to engage, collaborate and motivate an organization with a remote and/or hybrid workforce. Employees are human beings who require human interaction; And the learning as leaders will be our ability to tap into the right balance of face-to-face interaction amongst our teams, stakeholders and customers.”
Sophia Sharp-Donaldson,
executive director, Global Strategic Sourcing and Procurement, Kite Pharma

Oualae Alami

The power of resiliency

“If the pandemic taught me anything in terms of leadership, it is the power of resilience. It helps us as individuals to sustain our energy levels under pressure and adapt to disruptive change, but as leaders it also flares up our empathy. This is how we can bring our organizations onboard and create the safety net and trust our teams need to create and thrive to solve the unique challenges of the future.”
Oualae Alami, vice president, Europe 1 Hospital Business Cluster Lead, Pfizer

Mary Stutts

Bringing stakeholders together

“The one skill I believe will be critical for all of us as leaders are listening. We are at a pivotal point in our society where the only way we can keep making progress in advancing health equity, enabling innovations and making the world a healthier place For all is by bringing together brain trusts that are representative of all stakeholders. This requires leaders having the patience, cultural curiosity, intentional mindset and the ability to overcome social discomfort not only hear their wisdom and knowledge, but also make the changes and investments necessary. to integrate it into strategies and business models. Change does not happen when everyone is comfortable.”
Mary Stutts, global chief inclusion and health equity officer, Real Chemistry

Tressa Milton

Leading with positive crisis energy

“A critical skill will be leading with positive crisis energy when you are not in a crisis. Given the COVID-19 journey, as an organization, we adapted quickly, made definitive decisions, came together with a higher sense of purpose and unity and we enhanced our ability to focus on our mission to save and sustain lives not just for patients but our own families. Carrying positive crisis energy forward will drive high-performance teams to be motivated to achieve greater things together and there should be another crisis, we will be even more ready to sustain our market position and resources which is so important given the critical products we provide to sustain life.”
Tressa Milton, senior director, Safety and Occupational Health, Baxter

Amy Hutnik

Personal connectivity

“It’s all about personal connectivity. As the industry pivoted to virtual engagement of external stakeholders in the past years, leaders now face a similar challenge with employees and teams. We’re emracing a hybrid model globally everywhere possible — that means strong leaders must consider how to forge personal connections that still enable mentorship, resiliency and loyalty in the teams we serve and lead in this new era.”
Amy Hutnik, general manager, Agency, Advisory and Evidence Services, Eversana, and a 2019 PharmaVoice 100

Kanchan Relwani

Empathy — a critical leadership competency

“Historically thought of as a ‘soft’ skill, research has shown that empathy is a critical leadership competency that can have a positive impact on workplace productivity, retention, engagement, motivation, innovation and more. As we redefine the future of work culture coming out of the pandemic, it is more important than ever for leaders to demonstrate that they care. I [urge] all leaders to aim high and become CEOs: chief empathy officers.”
Kanchan Relwani, senior vice president, Medical Affairs, Alkermes and a 2020 PharmaVoice 100

Cheryl Heineck

Leading from within the team

“I believe that empathy will continue to be critical in leading our teams and organizations in the future. A leader who is empathetic leads from within the team and shows genuine interest to encourage collaboration and ensure that everyone feels heard, which results in positive outcomes including greater engagement.”
Cheryl Heineck, field director and chair, Women Rising Business Impact Group, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals

Tracy Picon

Allies are key to leadership

“I strongly believe in embracing allyship as the key to effective leadership. Allies intentionally decide to understand, empathize and act in support of others. This creates systemic workplace change enabling everyone to be authentic, do their best work, and grow personally and professionally in a safe, diverse and inclusive environment.”
Tracy Picon, senior director, US Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft

Sarah Burke Mullins

Emotional intelligence is essential

Post-COVID, emotional intelligence skyrockets from an important to an essential leadership skill. As employees have experienced their work and personal lives becoming more integrated, leaders need to engage with their teams as people who work, not as employees who have personal lives. This requires listening, caring, sincerity and flexibility.”
Sarah Burke Mullins, head, US Cardiovascular, Sanofi

Michelle Greene

Leadership flexibility

“Flexibility will be critical. As we establish hybrid working models, it is important to understand the individuals on your team, what motivates them and how, as a leader, you can adjust your style to ensure continued growth of a high-performing organization.”
Michelle Greene, senior vice president, chief information officer, Pharmaceutical Segment, Cardinal Health

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